You are using an older browser that does not support current Web standards. Although this site is viewable in all browsers, it will look much better in a browser that supports Web standards.


ARSP | Autism| Flyash | Little Blue | Marcellus Shale | PRETA | Past Projects

Past CHEC Projects

Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threat Analysis (PRETA)


The Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threats Analysis (PRETA) project puts together information about the major threats to human health and the environment within southwestern Pennsylvania. PRETA is intended to cover the core public health functions—assessment, policy development, and assurance—and relies heavily on figures, maps, and other visuals. PRETA is meant to encourage stakeholders to take into account scientific analysis and public values for sound policy development
and remedial action against environmental threats. PRETA also is meant to be informative, highlighting the populations most at risk to those threats. Ideally, PRETA will inspire initiatives to address the highest risks to human health and the environment in southwestern Pennsylvania.


  • PRETA Air: Hazardous Air Pollutants The third and final report of the series discusses a broad class of air pollutants termed hazardous air pollutants also known as air toxics, of which, there are approximately 200 unique pollutants. While the PRETA region as a whole experiences a constant burden of certain ambient air pollutants from secondary and background sources, certain communities experience additional risks simply by residing close to emissions sources. This report includes an analysis of the 2005 national ambient toxics assessment in the context of the PRETA region. PDF»
  • PRETA Air: Particulate Matter - Published Dec. 2012
    The preliminary assessments employed in the project identified air quality as the number one current environmental threat to the welfare of the greater Pittsburgh region. The second of a series of reports on the environmental threats to the region, titled PRETA Air, focuses on particulate matter and its environmental and public health impacts. PDF»
  • PRETA Air: Ozone
    CHEC's Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threats Analysis (PRETA) project puts together information about the major threats to human health & the environment within Southwestern PA. The preliminary assessments employed early in the project identified air quality as the number one current environmental threat to the welfare of the greater Pittsburgh region. This first of a series of reports on regional environmental threats, called PRETA Air, focuses on ground-level ozone, which has been elevated significantly above health-based governmental standards in the summer months. PDF»
  • Key Informant Interviews Preliminary Results
    Greer Tiver's MPH Thesis: Environmental Threat Perception in Southwest PA: A Qualitative Study of Local Expert Opinion. PDF»

Environmental threat analysis (ETA)

An environmental threat is any environmental or environmental public health factor or problem that has been shown to cause or may increase risk to: the survival, growth & development, or reproduction of plants & animals &/or the morbidity & mortality of humans, respectively. An analysis of this kind examines such threats. Examples of threats to ecological receptors can include factors such as habitat destruction & water quality problems. Examples of threats to human populations can include exposures to toxic substances, such as arsenic or airborne particulate, that are causally linked to decrements in health outcomes or raise the risk for decrements in health outcomes. Very often environmental problems are intimately linked to environmental public health problems. For instance, commercial or residential development in critical watersheds destroys necessary habitat for many plant & animal species; it also decreases the ecological services necessary for adequate purification & retention of water. These problems, in turn, create additional problems for ecological receptors, as well as for human populations. These problems include increases in contaminant loads in water, channelization & erosion of streams & rivers, & downstream storm surges & flooding.
(See Chain of Causation, pg. 7, PDF)


Jump to Top»

Allegheny River Stewardship Project (ARSP)

ARSP is an effort by leading researchers, working together with concerned citizens of the Alle-Kiski Valley river communities, to determine the sources & types of river pollutants by monitoring the levels of toxins in fish living in the river.

ARSP 2009 Report:

Exploratory Data Report: Estrogenicity of Shad Species — By Lara Huyler, MPH (CHEC Doctoral Student) — View report»

Presented are graphs from ARSP showing composites of extracted shad fish fat & flesh samples taken from both Freeport & Ford City locations & added to MCF-7 breast cancer cells. MCF-7 cell proliferation tests are exquisitely sensitive for the presence of estrogenic contaminants including birth control pills (EE2), parabens & phthalates. All graphs display sample dilution vs. calculated mean estrogenicity index. The dilutions are displayed as integers based on the multiplication factor for the particular dilution. For example, the least dilute sample was 1/4000 & is displayed as 4000; the strongest sample concentration is 1/100 & is displayed as 100. Note that a number of fish composites had estrogenicity indexes of over 4 tenths of the positive estradiol control indicating significant estrogenicity.

ARSP Goals:

Engage river community members to become involved in the stewardship of the Allegheny River.

Understand the concentrations of important contaminants in river fish species, especially those that people eat.

Associate contaminants in fish with potential pollution sources.

Identify human exposures to these contaminants.

Understand the risks to human health & the environment from these contaminants & pollution sources.

Obtain & share data with policymakers so that there is action to solve identified problems, &

Form strategic partnerships with stakeholder groups along the Allegheny River to help insure ongoing stewardship activities.

Project Duration

Actual river fishing (sampling) occurred in May & early June of 2008. ARSP is expected to last until Spring 2009, when researchers will hold a series of community meetings on outcomes of the sampling results. At that time, a strategy for community action to solve identified priority problems will be determined.

Graduate & Undergraduate Students,

  • Andreal Bowser
    Chatham University, Biology, Senior Thesis
  • Kyle J. Ferrar
    GSPH, EOH, Special Topics
  • Sophia Good
    University of Pittsburgh, Geology, Internship
  • Yan Liu
    GSPH, EOH, Thesis Research
  • Samantha Malone
    GSPH, BCHS, Special Topics
  • Andrew Michanowicz
    GSPH, EOH, Practicum & Special Topics
  • Malcolm Murry
    GSPH, EOH, Practicum & Special Topics
  • Batsirai Mutetwa
    Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH), Epidemiology, Practicum
  • Suphagaphan Ratanamaneechat
    GSPH, EOH, Thesis Research
  • Benjamin Lee Schultz
    West Virginia University, Special Studies
  • Maxine Wright –Walters
    GSPH, EOH, Doctoral Dissertation


Academic Collaborators

Project Partners

BackgroundARSP Fishing Expedition Staff

Results of the Pittsburgh Fish Consumption Study (fishes sampled in the fall of 2005) indicate that extracts from the flesh & fat of catfish & white bass from the contaminated Pittsburgh Pool surrounding the City of Pittsburgh moderately proliferated the growth of MCF-7 Breast Cancer Cell lines indicating the bioaccumulation of Estrogenic Active Substances (EAS) &/or metalloestrogens in fishes. Also, significantly higher levels of mercury & selenium were found in channel catfish caught upstream at Kittanning as opposed to those caught in the Pittsburgh Pool. Twenty-three percent of fish samples from Kittanning had mercury levels above the EPA human health standard of 0.3 parts per million (ppm). Power plant emissions are a major source of mercury, selenium & arsenic into aquatic environments. The plants located on the Allegheny River may be the source of higher mercury & selenium levels in Kittanning caught catfish; similarly industrial plant & municipal (especially from sewer overflows) effluent buildup in the Pittsburgh Pool could be the source of xenoestrogenic chemicals in the fishes caught there. But these are hypothesis & to further determine the sources of both the mercury & estrogenic substances more research, directly involving river communities, is needed. Additionally the fish caught at Kittanning pose a measurable risk to the health of semi- subsistence anglers & others who consume them & the boundaries of fish that are so highly contaminated with mercury needs to be determined so that fish consumption advisories can be accurately made. We also want to determine the estrogenicity of fish at other location points in the Alle-Kiski Valley, besides the original selected point at Kittanning to see if there may be more local sources of estrogenic compounds.

Expected Short & Long Term Outcomes

  1. To engage river community members through EOH efforts & those of other project partners in the planning, execution & data analysis portions of the project; specifically to teach both interested teenagers & community members the procedures associated with the catch & measurement, geographic positioning, gender identification, dissection, analysis & interpretation of results of the study. Expedition members will be encouraged to be critical members of the scientific team & will keep a log of observations of environmental problems.
  2. To understand the different spatial concentrations, along major sections of the Allegheny River, of important contaminants (carcinogenic, EDC-estrogenicity & /or toxic) of environmental public health significance in sentinel fish species including the organic & inorganic forms of mercury & arsenic, metalloestrogens such as cadmium, selenium from flyash leeching, other heavy metals & the ability of extracts to make MCF-7 human breast cancer cell lines (proxy xenoestrogen measurement) grow by the analysis of new DNA produced & cells proliferated.
  3. To correlate these spatial concentrations with proximity to industrial facility effluents, power plant fallout or flyash pile leechate, & municipal sewer overflows, former industrial or known waste sites &/or areas of environmental degradation (deforestation, over development etc.).
  4. To identify human exposures to the contaminants found in fish either through drinking water &/or fish consumption.
  5. To understand the risk posed to human or ecological health from these levels of contaminants in fish.
  6. To begin to understand the sources of emissions of contaminants into the Allegheny River & the contaminants fate in the environment.
  7. To obtain data, evidence, & other information that can inform policymakers in preparing for a regional approach to water management.
  8. To form a strategic partnership with the Venture Outdoors, The Rachael Carson Homestead, the Alle-Kiski Health Foundation & the Heinz Endowments to energize river communities, groups, schools & individuals to become stewards of the river. To raise awareness in this area of the centrality of the river to their health & well-being, not only in the sense of drinking water or fish consumption but for aesthetic, cultural, historical & recreational values.
  9. To set a project in motion where the lessons learned from the project will be transformed into very long-term community environmental & specific water quality goals so that the footprint of the project widens & deepens with the passage of time.

Jump to Top»

Geopositioning of Coal Burning Power Plants, Coal Combustion Waste Sites (Flyash piles) & Beneficial Use Sites for Flyash

CHEC is in the process of putting the locations of coal-burning power plants; permitted & unpermitted (Legacy) coal combustion waste sites, commonly called flyash piles; & sites where coal combustion waste has been put into mines or spread as a soil amendment (beneficial use). This work is being done so that models can be made to explore the possible connection between these sites & different environmental disease outcomes. Coal Map (PDF)

Jump to Top»

Little Blue Run Coal Combustion Residue Surface Impoundment Private Well Water Study

Update: September 13, 2011

CHEC has finished sampling and conducting analyses for this project. CHEC sent letters regarding individual water results to project participants and has conducted community presentations to discuss the outcomes. Presentation (PDF)


  • 29 sampled wells had Manganese (Mn) concentrations above the secondary USEPA drinking water standard
  • There are some health concerns for manganese
  • 14 samples had iron (Fe) concentrations above the USEPA secondary drinking water standard
  • Only 1 sample of elevated arsenic (11.5 ppb)
  • The large majority of sampled water does not seem to be impacted, yet this is a snapshot sample
  • The use of water softeners, carbon filters, and reverse osmosis systems displayed decreased levels of many metals and salts including Fe and Mn
  • Spatial variations seem somewhat similar to DEP sampling in 2008
  • PA DEP monitoring values were higher in 2008 on average for most metals and salts sampled. Calcium statistically significantly higher not including impacted wells (p<0.01)  


  • Pitcher-type or faucet carbon filter units can remove some forms of iron and manganese
  • Boiling water is not recommended to remove iron and manganese
  • It is important to have well water tested at least annually due to proximity to LBR
  • We did not test for coliform bacteria; testing should also occur annually or when there is a change in taste, color or odor  


CHEC began its Little Blue Run Coal Combustion Residue Surface Impoundment Private Well Water Study in October 2010. The study attempted to characterize the present groundwater conditions contiguous to the Little Blue Run (LBR) surface impoundment - resultant from coal combustion waste created by the Bruce Mansfield plant in Shippingport, PA.

Citizens of Hookstown, PA, Georgetown, PA, and Chester, WV were selected using voluntary information collected from community meetings and membership lists provided by the Citizens Against Coal Ash. Site visits were scheduled for November 2010 with and a total of 85 samples were collected.


     Collecting information about a private drinking water well during sample collection

Collecting water samples from a home     

Jump to Top»


The Study of Environmental Risk Factors for Childhood Autism

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are a group of developmental disabilities that become evident early in a child's life and cause social, communication, and behavioral challenges. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that approximately 1 in 110 children born in the United States have been diagnosed with ASDs. The causes and contributing factors of ASDs are poorly understood, but genetic, environmental, and biological factors are thought to be involved. ASDs are an important public health concern.

The Study of Environmental Risk Factors for Childhood Autism is a multi-year study which began in 2010. It is being conducted in southwestern Pennsylvania (Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland Counties) by the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health. The aim of the study is to help identify environmental and other factors that may put children at risk for developing conditions within the ASDs.

This study involves the parents of children (2-5 years old) who are diagnosed within the ASDs and the parents of children who have not been diagnosed within the ASDs. Approximately 750 parents will be asked to participate in this study over the next 3 years.

Families who take part in the study will be interviewed by telephone. Our trained staff will ask the same questions of all families to determine if they have experienced similar environmental exposures during pregnancy and while their children were infants and toddlers. We will then attempt to determine if there have been substantial differences in environmental and other exposures in children with an autism spectrum disorder compared to children without ASDs. We hope that the results of this study will help lead to a better understanding of the role of environmental factors in ASDs.

Funded by the Heinz Endowments; The Children's Institute of Pittsburgh serves as fiscal sponsor of this grant. Learn more»

Jump to Top»

Bookmark and Share

Page last updated:
September 4, 2019