On today's program: Pennsylvania farmers are seeing the impact of trade tariffs with China; a local project is spreading kindness with a needle and thread; the Wolf administration is commuting more life sentences; and a very common, very toxic chemical is contaminating water supplies.
Newly passed PA Farm Bill brings connectedness to state farming goals
(00:00 — 12:50)
Pennsylvania's dairy, apple and hardwoods markets have been especially hard-hit by President Trump's tariff war with China. State Agriculture Sec. Russell Redding says even if they were lifted today, new players have entered the market, disrupting global demand for Pennsylvania products.
"I think that's going to be a long-term problem for us, even if we fix the immediate tariff question" he says. "New relationships have emerged."
Redding joins The Confluence following the passage of a first-ever $24 million Farm Bill supporters are calling the commonwealth's largest aid package in two decades. The bill is momentous, he says, because it envisions a tapestry of initiatives all working together to help current and future, rural and urban farmers meet whatever philanthropic or commercial goals they set.
Redding says it's not about where you live—it's about creating a connected approach to food and nutrition.
"Before it was always sort of the one off, right?" he says. "You deal with farmland preservation or you deal with animal agriculture or some current food safety issue, but not in a comprehensive nature, and I think that's really important."
Signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in July, the package provides tax incentives to would-be farmers; creates a disaster readiness fund; supports conservation; promotes schools teaching agriculture; encourages crop diversification, especially organics and sustainable practices; and more.
Keeping Pittsburgh's heart warm with handmade crochets
(14:02 — 17:51)
In 2005, Barbara Grossman founded the annual Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet Festival, which brings people from the creative arts world together in Greentree. It began as a fundraiser for the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh and eventually led to the creation of PGH Handmade Hearts. 90.5 WESA's Brian Cook reports the mission of PGH Handmade Hearts is to spread kindess through creativity by distributing handmade knitted or crocheted hearts throughout Pittsburgh with a tag that reads, "If you find this heart it’s yours to keep. Or you can pass it on.”
Increasing life sentence commutations: a trend or a moment?
(17:52 — 22:08)
Pennsylvanians sentenced as adults to life in prison without parole can only be released if the governor commutes their sentences. For the many of the last 25 years, that's happened only once annually. Wolf has granted commutations six times in the last eight months—and more may follow after the state’s Board of Pardons hears 21 pleas this week. 90.5 WESA's An-Li Herring reports.
What are PFAS and how are they contaminating Pa. food and water?
(22:15 — 38:47)
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS, are a group of man-made chemicals that don't break down naturally. They're used across multiple industries in products ranging from firefighting foam to the pots and pans in many home kitchens. Reporters Kristina Marusic of Environmental Health News and Oliver Morrison of PublicSource.org have been investigating the effects of PFAS on dairy farms and airports.
They found Pittsburgh International Airport is likely the source of a PFAS chemical plume. Morrison reports that the chemicals could have entered the ground and groundwater at the airport and then flushed into local streams and water supplies.
Marusic found that 23 sites have been identified as contaminated by PFAS chemicals and officials are struggling to address the threat of contaminated drinking water in the state. A DEP spokesperson tells Enivronmental Health News that due to limited resources, work to address potenital food contamination has not been started.
According to Marusic, the use of biosolids in the state is widespread, too. Approximately 94,000 dry tons of biosolids from 51 sewage treatment plants, many of which are located near known or suspected sites of PFAS contamination, were applied to farm fields throughout Pennsylvania in 2018 alone. None of it was required to be tested for PFAS.
PublicSource and Environmental Health News are hosting a forum on PFAS and their dangers at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Pittsburgh Airport Mariott.
90.5 WESA's Julia Maruca and Hannah Gaskill contributed to this program.
The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.