Downtown Pittsburgh
Downtown Pittsburgh

Leading experts and activists committed to fighting air pollution and protecting against climate change will speak in Pittsburgh in April as part of the 2020 One Health One Planet Symposium.

 Now in its fourth year, the two-day event is an initiative of Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens that explores environmental issues and their effects on human, animal and environmental health. Last year’s symposium discussed the future of food and diet.

This year’s theme, “One Health and the Air We Breathe,” is a logical topic for the four sessions at Phipps, given that a study by the American Lung Association ranked Pittsburgh as the seventh worst in the country for year-round particle pollution.

Organizers say that contributes to higher rates of serious health issues such as heart and lung diseases.

A 2019 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that more than 100,000 Americans die prematurely from illnesses related to air pollution, with an economic cost of $886 billion a year.

Panelists will address outdoor and indoor air quality and the potential of air pollution to harm human health, as well as the edgier topics of environmental racism, fracking, Shell’s ethane cracker plant in Beaver County and policy questions to consider going forward.

It will be a powerful, motivating day, says Maria Wheeler-Dubas, science education outreach manager at Phipps.

“Air quality is a major concern for Pittsburgh, both from legacy industry and ongoing pollution sources. Our goal is to inform the public about the health impacts and empower the community for positive action towards cleaner air,” she says. “What really sets this event apart is that we are taking a broad, interdisciplinary approach to understanding the issue of air quality.”  

Keynote speaker for this year’s symposium is Heather McTeer Toney, the national field director for Moms Clean Air Force, an organization with more than 1 million members working to address air quality issues.

Heather McTeer Toney, national field director for Moms Clean Air Force.

Toney, the first woman mayor of Greenville, Miss., served as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Southeast Region under President Barack Obama. She will speak at the opening reception on April 14, which starts at 5:30 p.m.

The symposium runs the next day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., beginning with a keynote speech by Neil Donahue, professor of chemistry and director of the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research at Carnegie Mellon University.

Donahue’s research includes projects on the effects of fine particulate matter known as PM 2.5 on the atmosphere, such as how cloud properties have changed, and the effect of these aerosols on the climate and human health.

The symposium will be broken into four sessions, each one featuring several experts: 

Session 1: Outdoor air quality and health

Session 2: Indoor air quality and health 

Session 3: Environmental racism

Session 4: Fracking, cracker plant and policy 

The cost to attend the opening reception and all-day symposium is $99. The cost for the symposium only is $74.

Sandra Tolliver

Sandra Tolliver is a freelance writer, editor and public relations professional in Upper St. Clair.