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Shenango Coke air quality project wins inaugural science award

By Jamie Wiggan

-Neville Island-

A project tracking air quality in and around Neville Island was recognized by leading engineers and social scientists at the inaugural Constellation Prize ceremony on Feb. 24.

Led by environmental advocacy group Allegheny County Clean Air Now (ACCAN) and Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab, the now-completed “Shenango Channel” documented unsafe emissions at the former Shenango Coke site using round-the-clock video recording and other monitoring tools. The results, presented as a “montage of pollution events,” prompted citations from Allegheny County’s health department in 2016, and the coke plant shuttered shortly after.

Although former owners DTE Energy gave other reasons for the closure, Angelo Taranto of ACCAN believes the Shenango Channel was at least a contributing factor.

“We feel like our activism had something to do with it,” he said.

The project was nominated for the prize by Gwen Ottinger, a politics professor at Drexel University who praised it as a driver of community empowerment.

“It exemplifies successful collaboration between engineers and a frontline community, and shows how thoughtfully co-designed technology can empower citizens to advocate for social change,” Ottinger said.

The success of the Shenango Channel also spurred on related efforts to monitor air quality in the Mon Valley, according to a press release issued by the CREATE Lab.

Although the Shenango Coke site is no longer operating, Taranto said ACCAN is continuing to monitor air conditions around the site, which was bought by Lindy Paving in November.

Taranto said he believes there are several other air pollutants active on Neville Island and is pushing for greater attention there from county authorities.

With awards conferred across four categories, the Constellation Prize was founded by a national group of engineers and social scientists to recognize projects that “elevate the values of environmental protection, social justice, human rights, and peace.”

The Shenango site project won the award for community collaboration. Other categories include biodiversity and indigenous rights, engineering education and policy impact.

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