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Pittsburgh Earns 4th-Ever United Nations Designation

Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
Phipps Conservatory's Exhibit Staging Center as seen from behind the main Phipps building, looking toward Schenley Park.

On today's program: DNA excavated from a nearby rockshelter could tell us about humanity 19,000 years ago; how the once-lost running buffalo clover has rebounded; why Pennsylvania is suing the family behind Purdue Pharma; and Pittsburgh ranks among the most sustainable for its building practices.

What we could learn from human DNA at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter
(00:00 — 12:28) 

Researchers are hoping traces of human DNA is still lurking in the sediment at the Meadowcroft Rockshelter and Historic Village, among the oldest sites of human habitation in North America. The shelter, located near Avella in Jefferson Township, overlooks Cross Creek in Washington County. 

Director of archaeology James Adovasio says they're awaiting results from sediment samples sent this month to the Centre for Geogenetics in Denmark. If DNA is found, researchers hope to learn whether it shows a transition from the late Ice Age to the modern era and determine when and how humans came to the Americas. Adovasio says some answers could arrive as soon as October. 

Meet the little green clover that beat the odds 
(13:38 — 17:38) 

One very sensitive species of clover was thought to be extinct until biologist Rodney Bartgis found it in West Virginia 30 years ago. Glynis Board, a reporter for the Ohio Valley Resource, spoke with Bartgis about his rediscovery of Running Buffalo clover and how it has recovered. Many are on public lands or they’re on private land with conservation agreements.

Shapiro calls Purdue Pharma settlement "a slap in the face"
(17:39 — 25:00) 

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro has filed a lawsuit alleging members of the family that owns drug maker Purdue Pharma are personally liable “for the devastation of the opioid crisis.” The announcement comes after the company reached a tentative deal to settle thousands of lawsuits alleging the company fueled the drug addiction crisis. 

Attorneys involved in the settlement say the Sackler family, which owns the privately-held drug company, will pay roughly $3 billion dollars in cash over several years and relinquish control of the company. Shapiro tells The Confluence that isn't enough. 

"I want to reach into the pockets of these sanctimonious billionares and pull some money out and return it to the people of Pennsylvania who have been so harmed,"  he says.

The deal announced earlier this week would not compel the Sackler family to admit wrongdoing in the opioid epidemic. Shapiro also takes issue with that. 

“I think it is important that they be held accountable, that there be transparency in the process, and that Pennsylvanians who are in need of resources to treat the disease of addiction have those resources,” he tells The Confluence. 

Shapiro has a separate pending lawsuit against Purdue Pharma. Officials there have not yet responded to a request for comment. 

Pittsburgh's commitment to sustainable buildings gets global honor 
(25:03 — 38:47) 

Pittsburgh is set to be declared the fourth-ever U.N. Center of Excellence of High Performance Buildings. The designation commits the Green Building Alliance to create tangible solutions to the UN Sustainable Development Goals through trainings, networking, technical assistance, research and advocating for changes in policy.

Alliance director Jenna Cramer joins Scott Foster, the United Nations' director of sustainable energy, who says buildings like Phipps Conservatory's Center for Sustainable Landscapes and the Frick Environmental Center are part of what earned the region the designation.

Cramer says Pittsburgh also boasts the largest 2030 District in the world, with more than 700 buildings (84.8 million square feet) regionally committed to a 50% reduction in energy use, water consumption and transportation emissions by 2030. 

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.

Kiley Koscinski is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She previously produced The Confluence and Morning Edition. Before coming to WESA, she worked as an assignment desk editor and producer at 1020 AM KDKA. She can be reached at
Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago.
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