Nov 21: Sustainability Salon on Pandemics and Air


The global COVID-19 pandemic is still with us, and won't be gone any time soon.  The 106th Sustainability Salon will look at several ways in which such events relate to air and air quality.  

First off, how can each of us best protect our own health, and those around us?   Neil Donahue, our resident expert on atmospheric particles and a signatory of the cautionary July letter to the World Health Organization, will delve into the difference between droplets and aerosols, the importance of wearing masks, and whether fomites (surfaces) are important in coronavirus transmission.

How do masks protect us, anyway?  Pleated surgical masks, homemade cloth masks, cartridge respirators, or replaceable filter media -- there are so many types.  Even before the pandemic, filter masks were important to countless people in a wide range of professions from health care to heavy  industry, not to mention individuals exposed to smoke from wildfires, severe pollution, or sawdust from weekend woodworking.  We've talked before about B-Corporations, whose goals include public benefits as well as financial gain.  One such company, Minneapolis-based Breathe99, originally meant for protection from urban pollution, was already getting underway as COVID-19 began spreading around the U.S.  If you've seen me in person in the last few months (indoors, anyway), you probably saw me wearing their B2 mask.  Breathe99's filter expert Alison Lee will share the story of the company and fill us in on the whys and wherefores of optimum filtration:  layers, fibers, pore size, electrostatic effects, and proper fit.  Note:  salongoers will be eligible for a special discount on the B2 mask; if a lot of folks are interested, we may be able to set up a bulk order for an even lower price.  (If you email me interest or questions, please be sure to include "salon" in the Subject line!)

Over the past nine months, we have all gotten used to a "new normal" of limiting interactions with other people, mask-wearing when we're out and about, and doing meetings and other events online whenever possible.  The last contagion on this scale was a particularly deadly influenza pandemic, spread in part by troop movements during World War I and lasting from early 1918 until the spring of 1920.   (Can you imagine the peril and isolation felt by people back in 1918 -- before Zoom, Facebook, email, and online commerce?  Before TV, and just as radio was catching on?  Before even widespread access to telephones?)  Dubbed the Spanish Flu (although it did not originate in Spain, they were neutral in the war so able to report on it and so were left with the nickname), it afflicted a third of the world's population and killed tens of millions of people (different analyses differ greatly on how many -- estimates range from 20 to 100 million).  But as with COVID, it was worse in some places than others.  Researchers at Carnegie Mellon have looked at the correlation of fatality rates in that pandemic with air pollution.  Edson Severnini, assistant professor of Economics and Public Policy, will share insights gleaned from this analysis, and the implications for our region.  

So what about the current pandemic?  Similar research is being done for COVID-19, but it is very difficult to unravel all of the confounding factors (things like international travel, politics, and stressed medical systems) during an ongoing global event.  Environmental physician Bernard Goldstein, former dean of Pitt's Graduate School of Public Health and former assistant administrator of the EPA, will bring us up to date on what has been uncovered so far, as well as regulations currently under review by Andrew Wheeler's EPA.  Should standards for ozone and PM2.5 be tightened due to pollution's impact on public health risk when a respiratory virus is rampaging, in accordance with the Clean Air Act?  This question comes at the nexus of medicine, epidemiology, public health, and the law.

And this spring, as much of the economy shut down, local scientists were watching.  Rebecca Tanzer Gruener and colleagues at CMU observed the changes in regional air pollution levels during the closures.  The results may surprise you!

Other events in the offing:  the annual Shale & Public Health Conference is always incredibly informative;  12-4:30 on November 17th & 18th (and a recording will be available later here).  Our house concert with Lui Collins on the 20th won't be happening, but you can catch her in a virtual show on December 6th.   The next Sustainability Salon will be on December 5th, with our annual early-December focus on Consumption (how to do less of it, especially around the holidays), featuring Pittsburghers Against Single-Use Plastic (PASUP).  And on Dec 13th, PASUP will resume our monthly community meetings with a discussion about SUPs in the time of COVID.  

Salons currently run 4-8 p.m. on Zoom (sadly, no potluck supper these days).  Plan to join the call after 3 p.m., and we aim to start the program right around 4.  If you're new to Zoom, you may find my Zoom Reference Guide helpful.  Please email me (at maren dot cooke at gmail dot com) with salon in the Subject line to RSVP (yes or maybe), or click on the link in your Eventbrite notice (if you're not already on my list, just email me with "salon" in the subject line to be added!).  

Please do RSVP each time -- it helps greatly in several ways   (and with a virtual event, it's how you'll get the call-in info!).  Please make every effort to RSVP well in advance -- I'll be sending out the registration link manually, so could miss last-minute registrations while setting up and hosting the event!  Be sure to include salon in the Subject line if you email, as I receive a ridiculous amount of email every day.  And if you're new, please let me know how you heard about the Salons!  

Check back on MarensList  (where you can find information on all sorts of environmental and social justice events, as well as better formatting for this event description) for updates.  And if you aren't yet on my list, if you're interested in Sustainability Salons (and our occasional house concert, simply contact me and I'll put you on my email list.  
As always, I'll be sending out directions and such (in this case Zoom instructions), and any late-breaking info, to all the RSVP'd folks by the morning of the salon if not before (usually Friday night).  So if you don't have it yet, please be patient!  One of these days I'll streamline this process a bit, but for now it takes a while to to dot all my i's and cross all my t's.   NEW:Eventbrite should also send you the Zoom registration link after you RSVP.  (I'm working on that streamlining!).
For the uninitiated, a Sustainability Salon is an educational forum;  it's a mini-conference;  it's a venue for discussion and debate about important environmental issues;  fit's a house party with an environmental theme.  We usually have featured speakers on various aspects of a particular topic, interspersed with stimulating conversation, lively debate, delectable potluck food and drink, and music-making through the evening.
Past topics have included election law and activismair quality and environmental justicesocial investment,  local economies, the economics of energymutual aid networksocean healththe rise of the radical rightthe back end of consumptionapproaches to activism on fracking & climateair quality, technology, and citizen sciencesingle-use plasticselection activismelection law, whether to preserve existing nuclear power plantsadvanced nuclear technologiespassenger and freight trainsconsumption, plastics, and pollutionair qualitysolar poweryouth activismgreening businessgreenwashing, the petrochemical buildout in our region, climate/nature/peoplefracking, health, & actionglobalizationecological ethicscommunity inclusionair quality monitoringinformal gatherings that turn out to have lots of speakersgetting STEM into Congresskeeping Pittsburgh's water publicShell's planned petrochemical plantvisualizing air quality, the City of Pittsburgh's sustainability initiativesfossil energy infrastructure, getting money out of politicscommunity solar power and the Solarize Allegheny program, the Paris climate negotiations (beforeduring, and after), air quality (again, with news on the autism connection), reuse (of things and substances), neighborhood-scale food systems, other forms of green community revitalizationsolar powerclimate changeenvironmental art, environmental education (Part I & Part II), community mapping projectsenvironmental journalismgrassroots actionMarcellus shale development and community rightsgreen buildingair qualityhealth care, more solar powertrees and park stewardshipalternative energy and climate policyregional watershed issues, fantastic film screenings and discussions (often led by filmmakers) over the winter with films on Food SystemsClimate Adaptation and MitigationPlastic Paradise, Rachel Carson and the Power Of One VoiceTriple Divide on fracking, You've Been Trumped and A Dangerous GameA Fierce Green FireSustainability Pioneersfilms on consumptionLiving DownstreamBidder 70YERTGas Rush Stories, and food, foodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodfoodand more food (a recurrent theme;  with California running out of water, we'd better gear up to produce a lot more of our own!).

Coronavirus update:   As you know, people in Pittsburgh and around the world are sequestered at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic.  Social distancing is still the rule for most Americans.  That's a bit of a misnomer, though -- we need physical distancing to flatten the curve, but technology now allows for rich interactions even so!  I believe that community is one of our greatest strengths, so in March as events began to be cancelled, I hosted the first virtual Sustainability Salon via Zoom teleconference -- rather than gathering our usual 50-80 people in a contained space.   It went quite well (even engaging participants from hundreds of miles away), and we're looking forward to June's salon!  Please be sure to RSVP (via email with "salon" in the Subject: line, or via Eventbrite) so you'll receive the sign-on information.  

If you haven't been here before, you may enjoy checking out our roof garden and solar installation (and now apiary!) as well as the many other green and interesting things around our place.  If interested folks are online and everything is working smoothly by around 3:30, perhaps I can conduct a virtual tour.

And if you like to make music or listen to homemade music, think back to our evening sings -- we typically ran the gamut from Irish fiddle tunes to protest songs to the Beatles, and a fun time was had by all.  Folks would bring instruments, and/or pick up one of ours.  Conversations would continue through the evening, as well.  With a virtual event this is less likely to happen, but we can share music by turns, reminisce, chat online, and look forward to the post-COVID era!

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