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Noteworthy pollution in one-third of Pa. waterways

Plus, vilified Pitt research program defended in report.


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January 20, 2022
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Polluted Pennsylvania, scheduling conflicts, controversial research, and The Scrambler: PA Post's Wordle surrogate. It's Thursday. Welcome.
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One-third of all Pennsylvania waterways are polluted enough to harm wildlife, recreation, or drinking water, a new federally mandated report concludes.

The report by Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection found 27,886 miles of streams statewide were impaired in one or more ways. Most are in Philadelphia and surrounding counties. 

The Inquirer reports nearly 97% of streams in heavily urbanized Philadelphia are labeled impaired, the highest rate of any county in the state. Delaware County and Lancaster County round out the top three. 

Read the full report here. Comments can be submitted here until March 1.

THE CONTEXT: According to The Inquirer, the sources of the pollutants vary, but the top three culprits are storm-water runoff, agricultural runoff, and acid-mine drainage, which occurs when water flows over sulfur-bearing materials.

President Joe Biden's Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act promises billions to clean up old mines that leach such waste. But some environmental advocates warn the real cleanup costs are likely to be higher than expected given some sites are missing from a federal inventory.

In agrarian corners of Lancaster County, meanwhile, farm runoff is polluting waterways and the connected and ecologically vital Chesapeake Bay. (In short, fertilizer discharges will supercharge algae growth, which kills fish.) 

After years of pressure to improve its cleanup process, Pennsylvania has submitted an updated strategy to meet 2025 pollution reduction goals for the Chesapeake Bay — but progress has stalled on this front before.


"While we all say things that at times we regret, my words were not simply regretful, they were malicious, obscene, repulsive … cowardly and the list goes on. They were racist, plain and simple."

—Peter Fratus, a Massachusetts man who was sentenced Wednesday for sending racist threats to Philadelphia's police commissioner in 2020
» ABOVE AVERAGE: 75% of Pennsylvania adults are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a rate slightly above the national average, PennLive reports. The majority of COVID-19 deaths here in 2021 were among the unvaccinated.

» SCHOOL STRUGGLES: PublicSource details the disruptions faced by Pittsburgh parents who have been contending with abrupt school closures during the omicron wave. Wednesday saw 12 closures, the fewest in weeks.

» ON LEAVE: A Penn State professor has been acquitted of charges following a scuffle at a vaccine rally on campus, but the university may fire him anyway, outraging his supporters, the Post-Gazette reports.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
» BACK IN SESSION: On Thursday, Jan. 27 at 5 p.m. EST, join Spotlight PA and our panel of experts via Zoom as we look back on the 2021 legislative session and discuss what themes are likely to emerge — or persist — in 2022. RSVP for free here. Submit questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
The next few days will be cold ones and might even bring some snow. At least we can look forward to more photos like this from @yatskoSend us your gems, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
NEXT STEPS: The panel drawing Pennsylvania's new state legislative maps has entered the final stretch of the process. But Spotlight PA and Votebeat report that with thousands of public comments to consider and a Jan. 24 primary election deadline looming, the finished proposal could still be 30 days away. So far, Republicans in control of the legislature have not been open to moving the May election.

HOLDING PATTERN: The Jan. 24 deadline also hovers over the ongoing redistricting process for Pennsylvania's congressional map, where a deal between Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers appears unlikely. The state's top election official says the map is needed by the 24th so candidates can start gathering signatures to get on the ballot — something they can't do without knowing a district's contours, per Capital-Star.

ABOVE BOARD: Fetal tissue research at the University of Pittsburgh that made the school a target of conservative pundits and politicians is "fully compliant with federal and state regulatory requirements," according to outside investigators hired by the university. While not unique, WESA reports the research program became a right-wing fixation and inspired wide-ranging conspiracy theories.

FAIRMOUNT FIRE: Philadelphia officials didn't relocate the victims of a catastrophic fire in a housing authority-owned rowhouse despite knowing for years of the overcrowding there, The Inquirer reports. The agency has offered shifting accounts about whether officials took any action to move the family after learning that it was again "underhoused." Funerals for the 12 victims were held this week

STOP-AND-FRISK: Pittsburgh police would have to document their reasons for stopping pedestrians on the street under a new "stop-and-frisk" proposal. WESA reports Councilmember Ricky Burgess' bill is aimed at related racial disparities confirmed by the police bureau's own accounting, which found roughly 70% of pedestrian stops involved Black people, who make up just 23% of the city's population.
PHILLY NEWS: The Joseph Fox Bookshop, a mainstay of the city's literary scene, is closing after 70 years; a 50-ton First Amendment tablet from the defunct Newseum in Washington, D.C., is now inside the Constitution Center; and the city's 311 app is on the fritz and linked to a security risk.

LAST CALL: The last full-line Sears store in Pennsylvania is closing, per  PennLive. The store is located at the Willow Grove Park shopping center in Montgomery County and is set to be redeveloped. Details are still TBD.

PGH PICS: Photographer David Aschkenas' 1970s-era snapshots of Pittsburgh and surrounding hamlets are the basis for a Blind magazine feature on the "grimy wonderland" that is The Paris of Appalachia.

TRAIN STOP: Middletown's new Amtrak station is officially open for business. CBS21 reports $200 million has been invested in Amtrak's Keystone Corridor overall since 2015. Transit advocates hope it's just the start.

TIL: Each day's state Senate calendar is topped with an aphorism: Wednesday's was "There's only one thing more precious than our time and that's who we spend it on." Here's the story behind the tradition.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

*This week's theme:
The weather
Yesterday's answer: Cumulonimbus

Congrats to our daily winners: Al M., Jodi R., Barbara O., Wendy A., Craig W., Suzanne O., Carol C., Patricia M., Don H., Irene R., Kimberly S., Beth T., Kevin H., Vicki U., Alice B., Debbie D., Doris T., Georgina L., Suzanne S., Alan V., Judith D., Elizabeth W., Brian B., John A., Brandie K., Susan R., Susan D., Kevin M., Bruce B., Elaine C., Scott R., Daniel M., Jill K., Kathy H., Janet T., James B., George S., Cris F., Renee B., Kim C., David W., Susan N.-Z., Bill S., William S., and Eddy Z.
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