Prove your humanity

The Pittsburgh-based Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) is one of the oldest environmental groups in the region, doing education on air quality issues since 1969. You may have seen their pig lungs at community events or gone on one of their air quality hikes.  Now they’re trying something new to reach residents of southwestern Pennsylvania — a podcast, brilliantly titled “On the Air.” The first episode just dropped, and Kara Holsopple asked host and GASP Communications & Education Specialist Emily Persico about what listeners can expect. Here are some highlights:

On the inspiration for the first episode, The Nose Knows.

“The main way that people understand air quality is through odors. They smell them outside, and that’s how they come to understand air pollution. We receive calls all the time from people who are worried about odors and don’t really know what to do about them. There’s a whole vocabulary to describe different smells: acrid, industrial, burnt tires, burnt metal. And some are indicative of specific pollutants and specific toxins.”

On the testimonials from residents being part of the podcast:

“We really hope to make them a big part of that podcast. We have a microphone that hooks up to a phone so when we’re out in the community doing day-to-day stuff, we can record community members. And then we are also encouraging people to call into my voicemail and leave a message.

LISTEN: “Turns Out Air Pollution Makes for Good Listening”

On why GASP wanted to produce a podcast?

“The best thing about the podcast platform is that it allows us to explore stories in depth. We have 30 minutes to explore a single topic which, for us, is really important because we really do get into a lot of behind the scenes, complex, technical, legal stuff. It’s not just about blurting two minutes worth of information. We’re telling stories and we’re giving other people the opportunity to tell their stories.”

On the call to action that ends each episode:

“We spend the first 20 minutes talking about all these problems we have, and there is a solution to these problems. There’s something that you can do right now. And we want the call to action to always connect to the greater episode and be something that anyone can do. Our call to action for this first episode is the hydrogen sulfide petition. Hydrogen sulfide is a toxin that is emitted in part by coke-making facilities. The [Allegheny County Health Department’s] Liberty Borough [air quality] monitor is one that has recorded countless violations. And so the petition basically is to encourage the Allegheny County Health Department – give them a nudge – and say ‘please follow through with this, please enforce the law.’

On the Smell Pittsburgh app:

“The whole first episode is about how people feel isolated when they’re smelling these things, because maybe the person next to them doesn’t smell them, maybe they think they’re a little crazy. And the Smell Pittsburgh app gives a way for people to report a smell in real time, and then they can see on the app that other people are also smelling the same thing. It takes away that isolation. Last year, there have been over 400 people reporting this rotten egg odor which is indicative of hydrogen sulfide. So this is a real problem that people are smelling. It’s affecting their quality of life.”

On Edible Air Pollution:

“On the Air” is not all doom and gloom. Listen to this clip of Shelby Brewster, a doctoral student at the University of Pittsburgh, explaining her idea to let people taste the air pollution they are smelling. She invented something she calls smog meringues.


You can hear the full episode of “On the Air” on GASP’s website.