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Nazareth, Pa., United States

Monday, October 02, 2023

Lehigh Valley Breathes Issuing Monthly Reports

In early August, both Lehigh and Northampton County announced the launch of Lehigh Valley Breathes. That's a program to collect data about particulate matter air pollution in the Lehigh Valley, called PM2.5 with up to 40 air monitors in both counties. 

PM2.5 is particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. It is caused by emissions from oil, diesel and gasoline as well as burning wood. It bypasses the nose and throat and goes directly to the lungs and circulatory system. It is linked to several negative health consequences, from reduced lung function and asthma.  

Given that Allentown is the asthma capitol of the United States, it is in our own self- interest to do what we can to reduce its occurrence. 

For the next year, Lehigh Valley Breathes will collect data as more monitor locations are established. After that, it will make recommendations to municipalities that might be impacted. 

In the meantime, Lehigh Valley Breathes is publishing a monthly report. Its first report is below:  

Welcome to the first Lehigh Valley Breathes project update! Because our project will require a year of data collection followed by several months of analysis before we can provide a final report, we decided to keep you informed on our progress as we work towards cleaner air for all.

In addition to providing monitor information, we’ll use these monthly updates to share interim project observations as they come along during the year, additional opportunities for residents to be involved, and pertinent news and information regarding air quality issues of both local and general interest.

First and foremost, we’d like to thank you for the incredible response we received to our invitation to residents to place monitors on their properties and be part of this project. We had over 90 emails in response to our invitation, and from that, we’ve identified at least 70 possible locations. Since we only have 40 monitors to deploy for the project, we won’t need all those sites; however, seeing so many people eager to participate was great.

As you may recall, we need two different kinds of sites for the project. The first type, what we call a priority site, is one that falls within one of the gray/white areas you may have seen on our interactive map. You can find the map here. We’ve identified these areas in consultation with our particulate matter expert from Carnegie-Mellon that seem most likely to yield high concentrations of particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5), the pollutant we’re focusing on.

The second type of site is one that is located outside of those priority areas where we expect to find data readings of much lower concentration because they are farther away from the mobile sources of PM 2.5 that we are studying. We need sites that are both rural and urban, close to roads and away from roads. Readings from these sites will be used to set baselines against which to measure readings from priority sites.

All of this requires a good deal of coordination. We expect the final design plan to be complete the week of September 25, 2023.

Monitor Installation

As of September 22, we have ten monitors installed. You can see where they are on the Shiny App, located here. Why, you may ask, only 10? Because monitor siting is both an art and a science. As explained above, we need to carefully balance priority sites with secondary sites. And then, sometimes, the site itself needs a bit of tweaking. Two of the monitors we had already installed needed to be relocated at the site they’re in because they were picking up stray readings from non-mobile or non-standard sources. One at a fire company picked up readings from the fire trucks when they left the garage. Another monitor was picking up readings from smoke from a nearby fireplace. They just needed to be repositioned, but that takes time. We expect to have several more installed this week, and we’re still on track to have them all up this Fall.

Any Observations?

Not yet, except for those out-of-standard readings from the two sites I mentioned. Once a monitor is installed, we need to keep an eye on it to make sure it’s not picking up weird stuff (that’s a technical term), as I explained above. As we install more monitors and acquire more data, it will become easier to identify patterns and outliers.

See You Next Month

We’ll be back again in October with more updated information. These updates will be posted on this webpage the last week of each month.

If you would prefer to receive the updates by email, you can request to be added to the email list at lvbreathes@gmail.com

Breathe easy!

Friday, September 29, 2023

A Little More About that Senate Dress Code

I voted for Mehmet Oz, not John Fetterman, in last year's race for the US Senate. I voted by mail, before the fateful debate in which Fetterman stumbled badly. But it was after I watched an interview with NBC. His cognitive ability and his extreme views bothered me. Not his attire. I frankly don't pay much attention to what's on the outside. It's what's inside that matters. Several of you are embracing this dress code as just another way to bash Fetterman. But I can tell you about two previous Pa politicians who preferred ordinary clothing to the required uniform of elitists. 

It's hard to drive through any county without stumbling across at least one school named after the 15th President of the United States. That's James Buchanan, a Franklin County native. He preferred the simple clothing worn in his agrarian community, and rejected what he called a "peacock parade" in which the United States had started to adorn its foreign ministers with military coats adorned with gold lace, a chapeau and a small sword. They called it the "livery of the American people." He  called it "ridiculous." 

When he himself was sent to the court of St. James, he refused to deck himself out with all the frills that elitists were wearing at the time. He offended many English bastard by dressing in the "simple, unpretending garb of the American citizen."  

I'll bet he even though those little American flag pins that everyone inside the Beltway wants to show off these days was never once worn by Buchanan. 

In addition to James Buchanan, we can look to one of our founding fathers who lived most of his life in Pennsylvania. Instead of decking himself in a powdered wig and frilly jacket, Benjamin Franklin preferred a simple dark purple jacket with a fur hat. His goal was to show American self-sufficiency and it actually caught on. 

So when you mock Fetterman's simple attire, you should know he is just following the lead of fellow Pennsylvanians James Buchanan and Ben Franklin. 

Ichiban Steakhouse Refuses to Seat Blind Patron With Seeing-Eye Dog

Ichiban Japanese Steakhouse, located on Catasauqua Road in Allentown, has long been a favorite  among those of us who love the hibachi experience. A chef cooks your meal before your eyes on a grill located in the center of the table. He (or she) dazzles everyone seated with flaming onions and then has customers demonstrate their wide receiver ability to catch shrimp or vegetables with their mouths. It's a great place for birthday celebrations. But I learned yesterday that this popular eatery has been denying service to blind patrons with service dogs. This is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and needs to be corrected.   

As some of you know, I walk a seeing-eye dog named Mason as often as I can. The owner is no longer able to do so, and the dog began gaining weight. Before you make the mistake of assuming that I've turned soft in my old age, I am still very much a miserable bastard. It helps the dog, sure, but it helps me even more. It's a great way to cool down after a hard exercise session or warm up before I start. It keeps the weight off so long as I watch what I eat. 

Mason himself is the most mellow dog I've ever seen, Nothing bothers him. He's highly disciplined and extremely intelligent. He received 18 months of training before being selected as a seeing-eye dog. He knows the difference between left and right, something I've been unable to master.  There is no doubt in my mind that he could have been a bomb or drug detection dog because of his highly developed olfactory nerves. He can smell deer or a fox long before I see it. When he's with me, he gets to be a dog and pretend he's a great hunter.  

I had the day off on Wednesday because the owner and his girlfriend had to run errands, and that included dinner at Ichiban. That's when Mason goes on the clock and serves as a guide dog.  I was surprised to learn that the restaurant refused to seat Mason's owner, who is both legally blind and somewhat deaf.  This was because he had Mason with him.  

This was confirmed by Ichiban's manager. He said he was refusing to seat patrons with service dogs, even if disabled because the presence of dogs might offend patrons who are allergic to dogs. He told me that Allentown police and Department of Health both advised him he had the right to exclude disabled patrons with service animals. 

I am sure this manager is acting in good faith, based on what he thinks he was told. I believe that he must have misunderstood them because the law is very clear. 

Under the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), a restaurant must permit service dogs to accompany people with disabilities to all areas where the public is allowed. Only two questions may be asked: 1) Is the dog a service animal required because of a disability?; and 2) what work has the dog been trained to do? That's it. The owner is under no obligation to provide an ID card or other proof. 

What about people with allergies or a fear of dogs? This is no justification for refusing service to a person with a seeing eye dog. They can simply be seated as far apart as possible. It's called accommodation. But people with disabilities still have all the rights to be seated at the same tables and areas as anyone else. Moreover, a restauranteur may not take on special fees for service dogs. 

So has it all gone to the dogs? No. A restaurant can eject a patron if he's unable to control his guide or the dog starts shitting and pissing all over the place. A K-9 dog snarling at everyone could legitimately be ejected. Also dogs may not block aisles. 

I have forwarded the link above to Ichiban's manager and hope he changes his policy because, quite frankly, he's breaking the law. I've learned that Ichiban has even excluded disabled veterans with service dogs. 

If this persists, a complaint can be filed with the Department of Justice  

Thursday, September 28, 2023

As Gov't Shutdown Looms, Senate Adopts a Dress Code

You can't make this stuff up. While the federal government is on the brink of a shutdown, the U.S. Senate  has unanimously adopted a dress code requiring business attire on the Senate floor. Heaven forbid that these elitists would want to like like the populares. John Fetterman should wear a nice business skirt next time he's there. 

Bob Menendez, who is accused of accepting bribes and providing sensitive information to Egypt, is welcome. He wears a suit. 

2d GOP Presidential Debate More Like Food Fight Than Policy Discussion

Well, that's two hours wasted. I made the mistake last night of watching seven GOP Presidential hopefuls interrupt and talk over each other instead of providing specific answers to the questions. The FOX moderators refused to blow the whistle as this free-for-all went on for two hours, even though they had the power to cut the mikes of candidates who incessantly operated and insisted on going beyond their time limits. All they managed to do was make themselves look as childish as frontrunner Donald Trump.  

Though there are serious issues facing this nation, one moderator diminished the forum when she asked  candidates who they would vote "off the island," as though this was some reality TV show. I'll credit Ron DeSantis for recognizing the stupidity of that question.

Who looked best? In my view,  they all looked pretty bad out there. 

For the second time, Donald Trump has won a debate despite skipping it. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

SAVE CARBON COUNTY Asks Bethlehem to Stop Spreading Sludge on Its Farms

A group of Plainfield Tp residents are outraged over Nazareth Borough Municipal Authority's plan to spread sewage sludge on their farmland. They've been before Northampton County Council a few times. If it's any consolation, they are not alone. Last week, Save Carbon County's Linda Christman addressed Bethlehem City Council over its practice of spreading sewage sludge from its wastewater treatment plan on Carbon County farmlands. 

Christman noted that a city staffer told her that it would cost $500,000 a year to send this sludge to a landfill instead of spreading it in Carbon County. She said cost should not be a consideration when it comes to doing the right thing. She added that the City could add an anaerobic digester to its wastewater treatment plant as an "economically viable alternative."

These digesters expel gas, which can be used to generate electricity to run the wastewater treatment plant and to sell on the grid.

"This use of sewage sludge to fertilize farm fields is poisoning land across Pennsylvania and the United States," she said. "Something needs to change." 

Various state laws restrict a municipality's ability to regulate sewage sludge. But Bethlehem, dewspite its Climate Action Plan, is itself participating in this practice. 

Cusick Wants Experienced Nurses Hired at Higher Rates than Newbies

At last week's Personnel and Finance Committee, Council member John Cusick began discussion of a recent finding operational assessment of Gracedale nursing home. Noting the county' heavy reliance on outside nursing agencies, Cusick complained that "[i]t almost appears as though we've outsourced nursing." He also criticized the county practice of hiring experienced nurses at the same starting salaries as those fresh out of school. He noted nothing in the union contract prevents the county from rewarding nurses with experience by starting them at higher rates of pay.   

That study was critical of the county's use of outside agency nurses to provide more than half of the nursing care. They are also paid 41% more than in-house nursing staff. The audit rejects the argument that the "robust benefits" offered to workers outweigh the lower salaries. According to Candace McMullen, who presented the report, "It's about paying your bills and having money in your pocket." ... "Whether it's right or wrong, it doesn't really matter. That's the reality."

Cusick, a teacher, stated that experienced teachers can be brought in at higher rates. But Mary Lou Kaboly, the county' HR Director, said this issue would need to be negotiated with the union. She said that bringing people in at the lowest step is county practice, even though it is unwritten. 

"We're handicapping ourselves," complained Cusick. "Why would someone with 10-15 years of experience come in at step one. They can go to an agency and get paid more." 

Council member Tara Zrinski suggested that the county's reliance on outside agency nurses is declining with the pandemic. But that point was disputed by Cusick. He said Gracedale has been over budget on the use of agency nurses in every quarter this year. 

Kaboly said the current AFSCME contract at Gracedale expires at the end of 2024,but Cusick said it aciually expires at the end of  2025. he urged Kaboly to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding with the union under which experienced nurses can be brought in at starting wages commensurate with experience.

Kaboly said that would require a lot of analysis. 

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Updated: McClure to Unveil NorCo's Proposed 2024 Budget Today

Today, at 10 am, Northampton County Exec Lamont McClure will unveil his proposed 2024 budget from the  County Council meeting room on the third floor of the county courthouse. You can watch it in person or online

Northampton County's spending plan last year was a half billion dollars. In  his nearly six years as Executive, he has never proposed a tax hike. He actually reduced taxes once. 

I will tell you more about the budget after listening to McClure's address. 

UPDATED: As most of you know, I'm an idiot. The budget presentation is a week from today, not today. 

Sparks Fly in NorCo Judicial Race Over Women's Rights to Choose

There is one opening on Northampton County's bench this election cycle. Brian Panella secured the Democratic nomination while Nancy Aaroe is the choice of Republicans. Up until now, the sole issue has been experience. Aaroe has more of that than Brian. A lot more. But Brian has more judicial experience since he's served as a Master in the ugliest kind of cases in existence - custody disputes. They should be issued whistles instead of gavels. 

Over the weekend, Panella made this point on Facebook. He noted his exposure to these warring factions, where he was required to control unhappy parents, who often act very much like the children over whom they seek parental rights. He declared that because of this, he "is the most experienced candidate. Period."  And then he adds this zinger: "Our conservative opponent tries to hide from the fact that she poses a direct threat to a woman’s right to make her own medical decisions."

What ensued was a fascinating and frank dialogue between these two:

Nancy Aaroe: "Which is it Brian? Apparently to you, I’m a Liberal pushing pro-choice Baratta when you’re speaking to Republicans, but a conservative threat to women’s rights when you’re trying to scare Democrats and Women? Stop pushing divisive partisan narratives you don’t even believe in and which are not even relevant to this race." She then adds the script of a text message sent by the Panella campaign to Republicans, calling her a "Democrat in Republican clothing." 

Brian Panella:
"You have publicly stated that you are a “conservative and a constitutionalist”, but you have donated money to many liberals including an ultra liberal DA candidate with no police endorsements. So Nancy, you tell us which one it is, are you Pro-life or Pro-choice?"

Nancy Aaroe: "I will be following the LAW, and the Judicial CODE OF ETHICS, which expressly states that candidates cannot “in connection with cases, controversies or issues that are likely to come before the court, make pledges, promises, or commitments that are inconsistent with the impartial performance of the adjudicative duties of judicial office” (Canon4(a)(12)) ; and Rule 4.2(1) that a candidate must “act at all times in a manner consistent with the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary”.

"Perhaps you should spend more time studying both, instead of attempting to inappropriately politicize a judicial race. Maybe with some time and experience as an attorney, you can familiarize yourself with the appropriate ethics of being a judge.

That's the end of this unusual exchange between these two. But one person thinks that voters have the right to know where judicial candidates stand on different issues. 

Jason Bryan Boulette: " Hi Nancy: federal courts have held that there is a difference between making a commitment or pledge to ruling in a certain way on a case likely to come before a judge and a judicial candidate stating his or her personal beliefs. And in 2002, the Supreme Court ruled in Republican Party of MN v. White that the First Amendment prohibits the government from preventing judicial candidates from stating their opinions on disputed political or legal issues. So I'm not sure why you're trying to hide behind a false interpretation of the Code of Ethics. The fact is that judges' views on issues matter. In Nebraska, a woman was just sentenced to two years in prison for helping her daughter obtain abortion medication. In Texas, a federal judge ruled that drag shows are offensive and lewd and not subject to the protection of the First Amendment. If you hold views like that, do you think the voters have no right to know where you stand? Your claim that judicial races are being politicized is funny -- sure, it would be nice to take politics out of judging, but in the Commonwealth, the people elect judges and the judges run political campaigns, so as long as that's the case, we have a right to know your beliefs and stances."

Since this exchange, the Aaroe campaign has fired off a news release claiming that Panella has been reported to  the Judicial Conduct Board and that he is a "flagrant" liar . She claims he crossed the line by discussing women's rights and that he's "purposefully attempting to scare women voters by invoking the issue of women’s reproductive health, which is not remotely applicable to our present judicial race."

Then , right after stating that candidates are barred from discussing this kind of issue, she does it herself. 

"LET ME MAKE MY STANCE ON THIS TOPIC VERY CLEAR: Nothing in my 32 year legal career would suggest that I would do anything to stand in the way of women’s health issues. I plan to follow the LAW - The PA Constitution has protections in place for elective abortion access through 24 weeks (and medically necessary abortion thereafter), this has been in our State Constitution for over 30 years. Abortion access is NOT at risk in our County or in the State of PA, and to say that ANY County Judicial Candidate is a “direct threat” to abortion access is factually incorrect and purposefully misleading. As a judicial candidate charged with reading and ruling on the law, there is nothing more that is appropriate to say on this, and Panella should be mindful of that. Judge candidates are not allowed to either voice their positions on these issues, nor campaign on them."

Methinks she does protest a bit too much. 

Bethlehem's Open Data Map Fails to Include Crime

Yesterday, I told you that Robert Virgilio, who makes the famous Bethlehem Bar, would like to see a crime map for Bethlehem.  Reader John M. posted this response: 

Bernie - Bethlehem is very far along in making data open to residents and others interested in statistics about the city. If this link - https://maps-bethlehem-pa.opendata.arcgis.com/ - doesn’t work, using the search “Bethlehem pa open data” will.

"The platform is built on the near-universal standard ArcGIS product. It’s the same product driving our two counties’ parcel databases, PennDOT mapping, etc. As of today we can see leaf collection, snow removal, historic districts and structures, and more. Nothing except an instruction from city management is preventing the publication of this dataset in a format anybody can access."

It is missing crime data.

"Indeed, that’s my point. They could and I don’t know why they don’t. The data exists - that first link from the state? Ucr.pa.gov is what the base URL is; the pasted link from the original poster was goofy. It worked for me once I played with it a little.

"As to what I found for the Bethlehem city jurisdiction - it presents current year versus prior year. You can adjust a lot of settings to do types of crimes and a lot of year ranges. WHAT IT DID NOT DO IS MAP CRIME TO LOCATION. I’m certain the BPD has geolocation data associated with each arrest and indictment as well as the date they report to the state.

"Crimemapping.com could do that. From their website:

'If you do not see your local agency on CrimeMapping.com then they do not yet subscribe to our services. We would love to serve your community and would urge you to contact the public information officer at your local law enforcement agency to let them know about CrimeMapping.com.'

"Why don’t they?

"You have a bully pulpit, Bernie. I’m a resident with no real ear on council."

I might have a bully pulpit, but it is readers like John M who have the brains and provide thoughtful commentary.