Outside/In: What's It Like To Live With Industrial Air Pollution For The First Time?
We’re exposed to plenty of invisible risks in our daily life: toxic compounds in the fabric of our couches, contaminants in our water, and pollutants in the air we breathe. A lot of the time, we don’t think too much about them.
But sometimes, the invisible becomes suddenly, acutely visible.
A story about the air we breathe, the risks we live with, and what it means to become a citizen of a place.
Susan Scott Peterson had been living in Pittsburgh for just a few weeks when she smelled it for the first time. The air was a little thick, a little hazy, and it smelled like chemicals and sewage. Barefoot, she walked around the block, looking for the source of the smell: maybe an open dumpster or a burst sewer line? A reeking trash heap? She couldn’t find anything that explained it.
But she soon learned the source of the smell: hydrogen sulfide, a sulfur-smelling gas emitted by the Clairton Coke Works, a factory only fifteen miles south of her house.
The plant manufactures coke, a fuel used in steelmaking—and it’s notorious for violating local pollution regulations.
It was Susan’s first time living with industrial air pollution, and when she realized that the air she breathed was often thick with pollutants, she was filled with regret and fear - especially for her three-year-old kid.
But what could she do about it?
That moment was just the beginning of a journey that would put Susan in contact with the invisible surrounding her.
A journey about the air we breathe, the risks we can live with, and what it really means to become a citizen of a place.
Featuring Susan Scott Peterson, Stella Peleato, Dr. Deborah Gentile, Rashmi Baliga, and Linda Wigington.
Outside/In is a member-supported production of New Hampshire Public Radio. To support work like this, please consider a donation to the show.
Links and Resources
- To learn ways to improve your indoor air quality wherever you are, here’s a link to the ROCIS guide.
- For open-source air quality data in your location, visit the Purple Air monitoring network map.
- For more on air quality in the Pittsburgh region, start with Breathe Project and the Smell PGH and Plume PGH apps by Carnegie Mellon’s CREATE Lab.
- To learn more about air quality activism in Pittsburgh, visit the Group Against Smog and Pollution and Breathe Project.