Wine to Water Reflection Video

From May 2nd to the 9th, a group of Point Park University Environmental Journalism students traveled to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros in the heart of the Dominican Republic. There, they partnered with Wine to Water, a nonprofit that uses sustainable sources to create water filters unique to each country it helps. The students stayed at the water filter factory, while creating and delivering clay-filters to families throughout the region. During the following week, check back as they share their experiences here.

The video is a reflection of Georgia Fowkes personal experience. Fowkes is a student of Sports, Arts, and Entertainment Management studies at Point Park University and has recently accepted an internship at Abrams Artist Agency in the Arts & Entertainment industry of West Hollywood, California.

Georgia Fowkes captures a sunrise video for her multimedia project via her cell phone. Photo by Christopher Rolinson.

Does the Water Mafia Exist?

Factory owner Radhames Carela holds a newly fired ceramic water filter, explaining to the group how the filtration process works through a combination of locally sourced clay, sawdust and outsourced silver. Photo by Christopher Rolinson.
From May 2nd to the 9th, a group of Point Park University Environmental Journalism students traveled to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros in the heart of the Dominican Republic. There, they partnered with Wine to Water, a nonprofit that uses sustainable sources to create water filters unique to each country it helps. The students stayed at the water filter factory, while creating and delivering clay-filters to families throughout the region. During the following week, check back as they share their experiences here.

Written by Erica Schey

When you hear about the Dominican Republic what do you think? Many think of it as a vacation spot with white sandy beaches and blue waters. But, outside the walls of the resorts, is a lot of poverty and a real need for clean water.

On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic, I had the pleasure of working with an organization called Wine to Water to distribute ceramic water filters to surrounding areas. Many families don’t have access to clean drinking water, which causes many health issues like diarrhea, abdominal cramps, vomiting, nausea, fever and even death. Every 20 seconds a child dies of a waterborne illness and 443 million school days are lost each year from water related illnesses. Common sources for drinking water range from contaminated water wells, river and streams, and rain water. Some are fortunate enough to have the money and access to purchase large water jugs for their drinking water.  This is the part that brought the question to mind, is there a “water mafia” that controls people’s access to clean drinking water?

When following up with people in Bonagua, many of the households mentioned that the water filters were saving them a great deal of money. Anywhere from 300 to 1,000 pesos a month. This was all because they don’t have to buy the jugs of clean water anymore.

However, some households mentioned that they have only cut back on how many jugs they buy because they didn’t want to tell the people that sell them that they didn’t need them anymore. Is this because of fear or is it because those people lively hoods depend on the sales of clean water?

While we know, we are doing good by building and distributing water filters so that families can have less health issues and save money. It brings up the question, could these filters be having an adverse effect on the people that distribute these water jugs? It is believed that it is a big enough business that if a few families in the community stop buying jugs of water it wouldn’t impact the bottom line of the business. But as we do more and more work in these communities and hand out more and more filters, when will it impact the bottom line? When does our good work become bad for others?

Erica Schey is a recent graduate of Point Park University’s Department of Natural Sciences, Engineering & Technology M.S program. Schey is pictured above (right) sculpting a ceramic water filter.

Methane Mitigation Takes Off

Methane Mitigation Takes Off

Environmental Journalism Graduate Student Rebecca Lessner helped the Pennsylvania Environmental Council in shooting and editing the following video on methane mitigation in the state. More and more Pennsylvanians are finding work in the growing methane mitigation industry, helping to find and fix natural gas leaks that drive up energy costs and contribute to global warming.

CH4NGE is curated by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC), highlighting the economic and environmental benefits of addressing methane emissions, and how Pennsylvania’s policies and practices compare to other gas producing states.

PEC is a partner with the Center for Responsible Shale Development.

Poisoned Eden

Radhames Carela explains to students how the clay filters he produces in his factory work. Photo by Christopher Rolinson.
From May 2nd to the 9th, a group of Point Park University Environmental Journalism students traveled to the city of Santiago de los Caballeros in the heart of the Dominican Republic. There, they partnered with Wine to Water, a nonprofit that uses sustainable sources to create water filters unique to each country it helps. The students stayed at the water filter factory, while creating and delivering clay-filters to families throughout the region. During the following week, check back as they share their experiences here.

Poisoned Eden

The Dominican Republic’s Ongoing Battle for Clean Water

By Heather Jewell

Peering out over the vibrant green cascading vistas surrounding the city of Santiago de los Caballeros in the Dominican Republic, one may think they have found nothing short of paradise on Earth; making it hard to believe that an estimated 1300 people are lost annually to water-related illness in the country.

Water is life and unsafe drinking water can take that life. As a US citizen, it is hard to wrap one’s head around the concept that consuming tap water could make you gravely ill, but in the Dominican Republic this is daily life. A lack of funds, infrastructure, and regulation combined with growing populations has exacerbated the problem across the country.

In urban areas, such as Santiago, the outskirts of the city lack reliable plumbing which increases the incidence of contamination before water makes it to the tap in someone’s home. In these suburban areas, garbage still lines the streets and chickens run freely, deep runoff ditches lay adjacent to the busy streets, carrying blue-tinted water that oftentimes makes its way into the plumbing lines carrying water directly into homes.

A resident of a local neighborhood in the Santiago area shared that he had a stomach ache for over six years until his family was fortunate enough to begin using clay filters for their home’s drinking water, filters that now his family’s factory makes for the residents of the Dominican Republic to help fight this ongoing battle for clean water.

The clay filters help remove 99.9% of the organic contaminants from the water making it safe for consumption and reducing illnesses such as bacterial diarrhea. Complications of diarrhea cause half of the deaths of children under the age of one in the Dominican Republic. According to the Central Intelligence Agency’s website, the degree of risk to major infectious disease runs high for waterborne bacterial diarrhea, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever. In extreme scenarios, outbreaks of Cholera have been reported which is waterborne disease that can often lead to death.

In rural areas, up to 18% of country’s residents have unimproved drinking water sources; forcing many rural citizens to use untreated water straight from rivers, rain catchments, springs or wells as drinking water. Agricultural runoff, human waste and improper disposal of industrial waste can affect the water quality of any of these water sources.

It is estimated that only 25% percent of residents in rural areas area connected to public water supplies and close to 50% have access within 200 meters of their dwelling. Lack of income in rural areas makes it hard, at times impossible, for families to buy bottled water for consumption or even chlorine to treat the water, leaving them no other option than to use their untreated local sources. The Dominican Republic is visually stunning country with a deeply rooted and dangerous issue of dirty water.

Foreign non-profits, volunteers and philanthropists are working together with communities in the country to promote in-home filter use and sanitary education to empower the communities with the tools they need to make healthier choices and to increase accessibility to clean water.

Heather Jewell is a Senior Graduate Assistant to Point Park University’s Department of Natural Sciences, Engineering & Technology. Photo by Rebecca Lessner.
 The Environmental Journalism Program is made possible through the Heinz Endowments, two private foundations sharing a mission to help southwestern Pennsylvania thrive economically, ecologically, educationally and culturally.


Environmental Journalism Program travels to the Dominican Republic

This past May, eight students partnered with Point Park University’s Environmental Journalism Program took off to Santiago De Los Caballeros to mold, fire and distribute a unique take on clay-water filters to the surrounding communities.

Housed by Wine to Water, an organization providing clean water in six different countries, the students lived above a clay factory where they worked everyday alongside locals, who showed them how to work with the raw materials to produce a product that would provide healthy, clean water to a local family for years to come.

Located in the town of El Higuerito, the factory was surrounded by a small community in the middle of a lush landscape. The family home of Radhames Carela, the driving force behind these water filters in the Dominican, was located adjacent to the factory. His three daughters, all the same age as the students, were excited to befriend each student and share music and trends that crossed the cultural boundaries.

Everyday, the Carela family provided breakfast, lunch and dinner, and music to the traveler’s lodging above their factory. The students were not only meeting locals and distributing clean drinking water, but also experiencing the culture in the small community, and they were welcomed into the family lifestyle of the Carela’s.

Throughout this week, the Environmental Report will be sharing these students “field notes” daily, featuring one student each day. Through their field notes, we hope you will get a good glimpse into how each student was impacted by this emotionally rewarding experience.

Students look out over sunset in the town on El Higuerito, Dominican Republic.

Everyone took something different away from this journey, this may have to do with their varying backgrounds in Biology, Geology, Multimedia, Journalism and even Entertainment. The Environmental Journalism Program could not have asked for a better group of young adults, all showed passion, love for every community and engaged without one complaint in every task asked of them. We look forward to watching what they do in their futures, and how this trip will continue to influence their work.

To learn more about Wine to Water’s work in the Dominican Republic, continue to follow this page for the students “field notes” updates, and check out their website here.

Pittsburgh’s Hidden Lead Piping

Pittsburgh’s Hidden Lead Piping

A group of students embarked last semester on finding out if Pittsburgh was comparable to Flint, Michigan; here’s what they found.

Written by Trevor Kirby

Video by Rebecca Lessner & Trevor Kirby

As the city water system became so mired in controversy over a Flint-type lead crisis in the water lines, the Environmental Journalism Group of Point Park University, had some concerns over water quality at local universities and colleges.

One student at Point Park University (PPU), Briana Walton, a third-year Photojournalism Major, was a strong believer that the city water didn’t pass the eye test.

“I have a well at my home in North Hills, and when I first came to this school I tasted the water and could tell a difference, in not only taste but also color,” she said.

So, an Environmental Journalism group at PPU, made up of graduate-student Rebecca Lessner and third year photojournalist student Trevor Kirby, decided to test drinking fountains of four different city schools, which produced some surprising results.

In the tests done at Point Park, University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University and the Community College of Allegheny County, the group found that water was potable and almost devoid of lead.

Specifically, they found these results,

  • The drinking fountain water had only one parts per billion (ppb), which compares to the worst results in Flint with the tests showing over 25 parts per billion. This was almost a minuscule problem.
  • EPA’s action level is 15 parts per billion (ppb) for lead for PWSs (public water system’s)
  • The students water was safe to drink and use.

While those findings brought clarity to the fountain contents, they couldn’t get past the notion that water produced by the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority had other issues.

“Yeah, our water is OK but why, when I turn my faucet on in the dorm, does it still come out brown,” asked Megan Bixler a third-year photojournalism major at Point Park.

The proof is in the piping.

What the group found after touring the PWSA plant, was that the clean water that emerges from the North Side water plant travels through miles of piping – many of the pipes made of old lead – causing infusion of lead and other chemicals into the water before it reaches Pittsburgh homes.

The school group, like city engineers, soon found there is no database telling them which of the many hundreds of miles of pipe were lead. This is what contributed to a controversy-filled Spring of 2017, with city residents outraged that very little was being done to correct issues that seemed like they were rivaling Flint, Mich.

But is Pittsburgh comparable to Flint, Michigan?

If you remember, earlier this year officials from Flint Michigan looked to find a cheaper source of water for their city, they turned to the Flint river for answers. Little did they know they would find E-Coli and coliform bacteria in the water.

Soon after, children were tested for lead poisoning and a state of emergency being declared in Flint last December after finding lead levels as high as 13,000 PPB, which the EPA was in disarray about and considered the water to be toxic waste.

In Pittsburgh, it’s our hidden lead pipelines.

According to Anthony Gaglierd, retired Environmental Health Administrator with the Allegheny County Health Department, in the 1900s many cities including Pittsburgh used lead piping for water lines.

The primary reason was that, from an engineering perspective, it was an ideal material. It was pliable, durable and you could work it around existing infrastructure.  Engineers thought of it almost as the “Cadillac of pipes.”

Once it was in the ground, a lead pipe would last two to three times longer than iron piping. In fact, that is why the lead pipes that were put in the ground in the 1900s for the most part, are still in use today.

Occasionally, people would raise health concerns about the lead. But at the time, there wasn’t a deep appreciation for how serious lead could be, so those concerns were minimized.

This lead to the late 19th century and early 1900s, women would use lead as an abortifacient. There were companies that actually mass marketed lead pills, and you would take the pills to induce abortion.

The complexity of water-related lead exposure was another issue. If you have a neutral or slightly scale producing water, it’s perfectly safe to run that water through a lead pipe. The slightly scale producing water will lay down a carbonate film on the lead lines preventing the release of lead into the water.  When the water gets aggressive it tends to dissolve lead from the lines and place it in the water. Which then brings it into our homes and into our bodies.

In 1900, chemists did not fully understand the nature of that relationship.  It wasn’t until the early 20th century when a Saturation Index was developed by Dr. Wilfred Langelier, which now bears his name, the Langelier Saturation Index. It and other like catalogs are basically a way to determine if water is corrosive (negative LSI) or scale-forming (positive LSI). Water can only hold so much calcium carbonate in solution. Once the water is saturated any excess will precipitate out forming a protective film on lead water lines.

From the commencement of filtration in 1907, until the 1950s, there was no further chemical treatment performed on the water. Only the addition of chlorine for disinfection and, during periods of acid river water, and soda ash to reduce the acidity of the water prior to filtration.

How will Pittsburgh fix the problem?

In March, Mayor Bill Peduto announced the beginning of a remediation/replacement program for the problems in partnering with Peoples Gas and the PWSA to invest $1 million to provide water filters to every PWSA customer with high lead levels in their homes. The city has also offered to install these filters in schools and community centers as well as senior centers.

The filters that are expected to be installed in homes will be “point of use” filters, meaning that they will be installed in all taps and faucets throughout the home. The ones to be installed in schools and public facilities are expected to be “point of entry” filters, meaning they are to be attached to the inflow water pipes and will filter all water coming into the buildings.

“The households that have tested their water and have high levels of lead, we absolutely want to put a filter in their hands, but as I was sitting earlier this year with some activists and constituents from my district and talking about this issue, I realized that this is going to take a very long time to gather all of this information,” stated Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Deb Gross. “In years past the EPA was just concerned with averages, but now we have to realize that there could be two houses right next to each other with entirely different results and the problem is we have no idea who is who.”

Gross has stated “there is no safe level for lead in water, especially for children.”

When it comes to the EPA, ten or fifteen parts per billion are seen as OK. What does that mean for you? One part per billion (ppb) denotes one part per 1billion parts, this is equivalent to one drop of water diluted into 250 chemical drums or about three seconds out of a century.

While the Point Park group did not find any large amounts of lead in the tested drinking fountains, KDKA-TV went to the R.J. Lee Group in Monroeville to have them test a random sampling of tap water from some older homes in and around Pittsburgh and found house in Greenfield having 2.2 parts of lead per billion. One home in Lawrenceville had 4.6 parts per billion, another in Wilkinsburg had 6.7 and another in Oakland came up with a reading of 10.5 parts per billion.

Although high, all of these are below the CDC and EPA limit of 15 ppb. Knowing which residents have lead service lines will allow a focused effort on determining lead levels in drinking water at these residences, and the need for a filter will help in prioritizing a replacement schedule before gets worse.

ANYONE WISHING TO GET A FREE LEAD TESTING KIT CAN GO TO,, or e-mail or call 412-255-2423 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday – Friday.

United They Stand – 24 Pittsburgh Nonprofits Unite for Environmental Justice in the Age of Trump

United They Stand

24 Pittsburgh Nonprofits Unite for Environmental Justice in the Age of Trump

Twenty-four nonprofit CEO’s stood united in front of a bright Pittsburgh skyline this Thursday, ready to stare into the face environmental injustice. The CEO’s were not only present for their causes but to declare a commitment to their city, unprepared to see it’s health decline during the reign of this new presidential administration.

“Earth Day 2017 has a special urgency,” said Executive Director of Sustainable Pittsburgh, Court Gould, “given the rollbacks that are being articulated at the Federal level that will have a negative trickle-down effect across the Country and our region.”

Two-dozen CEO’s representing environmental nonprofits across the Greater Pittsburgh region.

The press conference at the Energy Innovation Center in Uptown Pittsburgh was called by two-dozen separate environmental nonprofits across the region. As the city stood tall behind them, they aired their concerns over the lurking threat of backsliding on recent environmental progress.

Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, CEO of Women for a Healthy Environment

Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, CEO of Women for a Healthy Environment, called for a pushback on federal budget cuts proposed in President Trump’s preliminary 2018 budget proposal. Cuts which she believes will “directly impact the ability of state and local governments to protect our health.”

Proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency would eliminate “more than 50 programs and 3,200 jobs.” The budget cuts are foreseen to affect programs that currently ensure access to safe drinking water, cleanup of hazardous waste sites and other pollution.

Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP)

Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), is especially concerned after a report published Wednesday morning labeling Pittsburgh amongst the 25 Worst cities in the U.S. for particle pollution.

The American Lung Association’s (ALA) annual “State of the Air” report for 2017 looks at ozone levels and “fine particle pollution,” or soot, in the air. Soot continues to present the worst ranked threat to the air people breathe in, according to the Clean Air Council.

“Pittsburgh’s continued ranking with the eighth worst air in the nation and F grades in air quality remains a stain on the region and shows that much more work still needs to be done,” said Executive Director of the Clean Air Council Joseph Minott in a press release. “While the ranking has improved on the margins, Pittsburgh still has some of the unhealthiest air in the nation.”

It’s reports like these that make these nonprofits nervous, while Pittsburgh river health and community life is improving, they still hear a call for more work to be done, a call they fear will go unanswered due to funding.

Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh.

“We must act boldly and change the things that are in our power to change,” said Scott Bricker, executive director of Bike Pittsburgh. “We must take a stand for the quality of life in Pittsburgh.”

The nonprofits represented urged the public to become informed, know their facts and to be involved with the organizations represented,  who declared they “have the infrastructure and capacity to be megaphones for your voice.”

One by one, the CEO’s symbolically passed around a microphone, stating their name and affiliation, as if to sign their name to the movement.

The nonprofits represented Thursday are as follows; Air Quality Collaborative, Allegheny County Parks Foundation, Allegheny Land Trust, Bike Pittsburgh, CCI, Center for Coalfield Justice, Economic Development South, Green Building Alliance, Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), Grow Pittsburgh, Growth Through Energy and Community Health (GTECH) Strategies, Hollow Oak Land Trust, Nine Mile Run Watershed Association, Pennsylvania Resources Council (PRC), Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens, Riverlife, Saw Mill Run Watershed Association, Sustainable Pittsburgh, Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, The Door Campaign, Three Rivers Waterkeeper, Tree Pittsburgh, Venture Outdoors and Women for a Healthy Environment.

Written and photographed by Rebecca Lessner, environmental journalism graduate assistant at Point Park University.