Thursday, October 29, 2015

New website lets residents check how close they live to Allegheny County's top ten polluters

Posted By on Thu, Oct 29, 2015 at 4:04 PM

The Toxic Ten website allows users to type in their address to see how near or far they live from one of the ten largest polluters in Allegheny County. - WWW.TOXICTEN.ORG
  • www.toxicten.org
  • The Toxic Ten website allows users to type in their address to see how near or far they live from one of the ten largest polluters in Allegheny County.
A new interactive website shows Allegheny County residents the top ten air polluters in the county.

After typing in an address, the website user can see how many miles away his or her house is from each of the ten industrial sites.

"This website will allow residents to learn more about the potential impacts on their health and how they can help ensure these facilities are cleaned up," said Stephen Riccardi of the environmental advocacy group PennEnvironment.

The organization rolled out the website in conjunction with the release of its "Toxic Ten" report written with the policy organization Frontier Group and funded by the Heinz Endowments and the Colcom Foundation. 

According to the report, "more than one in three Allegheny County residents lives within three miles of those 10 facilities."

The authors used the Environmental Protection Agency's scoring system called the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators model, which takes industry-reported data (basically, which substances and how much were released over a period of time) and analyzes it against the risk factors posed by those substances — as defined by EPA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report listed four categories of potential health effects: cancer and issues with the cardiovascular, nervous and respiratory systems.

"This report offers a clear picture of where the responsibility lies," said Riccardi at the press conference releasing the report and rolling out the new website.

Continue reading »

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Wednesday, October 21, 2015

PennEnvironment releases report on fracking near schools, nursing homes and hospitals

Posted By on Wed, Oct 21, 2015 at 4:19 PM

From left to right: Raina Rippel of the SW PA Environmental Health Project, Amanda Lapina of SEIU Healthcare PA, Stephen Riccardi of PennEnvironment, and Patrice Tomcik of Moms' Clean Air Force, yesterday in the Allegheny County Courthouse courtyard. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • From left to right: Raina Rippel of the SW PA Environmental Health Project, Amanda Lapina of SEIU Healthcare PA, Stephen Riccardi of PennEnvironment, and Patrice Tomcik of Moms' Clean Air Force, yesterday in the Allegheny County Courthouse courtyard.
A new report released this week warns that fracking is creeping closer to "vulnerable populations," including school-aged children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems.

The PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center announced its report "Dangerous and Close," which draws attention to the proximity of hydraulic-fracturing operations, or fracking, to certain types of facilities in Pennsylvania, including schools, day cares and nursing homes. The report has prompted five health and environmental groups to form a coalition and demand better policies from elected officials.

"We must take basic steps to protect our kids and other vulnerable populations from the negative health effects of fracking, and advocate on their behalf in a political process that favors frackers," said Stephen Riccardi, of PennEnvironment. 

According to the report, there are 166 schools, 165 child-care facilities, 21 nursing homes and six hospitals within one mile of a permitted fracking well site — that's 53,000 children under age 10 and 41,000 seniors 75 and older living within that distance, the report says. It cites Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection numbers indicating that more than 9,000 unconventional wells — where fracking is the means of extraction — have been drilled and thousands more permits have been issued. The report also says that industry predicts that approximately 60,000 wells total will be drilled in Pennsylvania by 2030.

The report cites as cause for concern studies that associate proximity to fracking with health impacts. The report's authors also elaborate on pollution and safety risks to drinking water and air quality, as well as the risk of well blowouts and explosions.

PennEnvironment, in conjunction with another environmentally focused policy organization, the Frontier Group, recommends that lawmakers require a minimum one-mile setback for drilling operations from schools, day-care centers, nursing homes and hospitals. The report also recommends increased enforcement and penalties for companies in violation near those facilities, among other recommendations.

As regulations stand now in Pennsylvania, the buffer zone for drilling near any building — a school or not — is 500 feet from the actual wellbore, or hole, not from the perimeter of activities.

"We feel that a mile away will help reduce the health effects that drilling can have on children and all vulnerable populations who are impacted," said Patrice Tomcik, of the group Moms' Clean Air Force, who attended the press conference to share her concerns about her two children in the Mars Area School District. Currently, there is a disputed well pad, containing five wells, a little over a half-mile from her children's school campus.

Also in attendance were representatives from the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project and SEIU Healthcare. Those two groups will join PennEnvironment, Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments to form the new coalition, Pennsylvania Health Professionals for a Livable Future.

The new coalition is also advocating for the one-mile setback minimum, as well as calling on elected officials to work toward banning open-air frack waste pits, to remove the doctor's gag order from Act 13, to create a public-health registry for public-health professionals to report fracking impacts, and to require training for health professionals about the health impacts of fracking.

"As health-care workers, we're deeply concerned about the future of health care, especially given that the long-term health impacts of unconventional drilling are largely unknown," said Amanda Lapina, of SEIU Healthcare.

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Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Pittsburgh Climate Movement protesters carry "dirty money" to Congressman Keith Rothfus' office

Posted By on Wed, Oct 14, 2015 at 3:53 PM

Pittsburgh Climate Movement protesters delivered a bag of "dirty" money to U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus' local office. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Pittsburgh Climate Movement protesters delivered a bag of "dirty" money to U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus' local office.
Carrying a huge bag of dirty money above their heads and marching to the beat of a band and their own chants, more than 100 protesters arrived at Republican U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus' local office to demand that he stop accepting "dirty money" and step up on climate-change issues ahead of the Paris talks.

“A year ago, half-a-million people took over New York City [for the People’s Climate March]. Today we’re showing that those people are everywhere," said Tom Hoffman of the Sierra Club, one of the more than 10 groups represented at the march. "There’s action in over 175 cities today [for national day of action] .The message is that the debate about climate change is over. Climate change is real, and we have to act now.”

The People's Climate Movement, a campaign that formed after last year's People's Climate March in New York City, declared today a "National Day of Action on Climate." (The national movement acts as a clearinghouse for local action, like the Pittsburgh Climate Movement, listing events on its website and providing media tool kits.)

Cameron Heydar, of Chatham University's  Sustainable Impact Team, marched in the Oct. 14 Pittsburgh Climate Movement protest at Keith Rothfus' office. - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Cameron Heydar, of Chatham University's Sustainable Impact Team, marched in the Oct. 14 Pittsburgh Climate Movement protest at Keith Rothfus' office.
The Pittsburgh marchers carried the bag of fake money — covered with the logos of energy and natural-resources companies  — into Rothfus' office, and formed a crowd outside.

"Those are all the companies that donate to Keith Rothfus. He’s doing their bidding," Hoffman said. “He has perfect opportunity. We need our elected leaders to do their part, and for the United States to lead.”

According to Federal Election Commission contribution disclosure documents for Rothfus' 2014 campaign, Koch Industries, Consol Energy and Alpha Natural Resources donated tens of thousands of dollars.

Speakers addressed their desire for clean jobs and concern for future generations' health.

"Because they know we need jobs in our community, they want us to believe that the only jobs are in fracking," Derek Fuller,
Anita Weingarten, of Penn Hills, marched to U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus' office carrying  a sign of smokestacks, reading "Explain to our children it was good for the economy." - PHOTO BY ASHLEY MURRAY
  • Photo by Ashley Murray
  • Anita Weingarten, of Penn Hills, marched to U.S. Rep. Keith Rothfus' office carrying a sign of smokestacks, reading "Explain to our children it was good for the economy."
 who attended the rally with Action United,  said to the crowd.

After leading the crowd in a chant, Erin Kramer of One Pittsburgh said “We are choking on their money, and it is not OK."  After the march, she told CP that her organization looks at climate change as an economic-justice issue.

"Our members, for example, and their children are often afflicted with asthma. So we can do things like pass paid sick days, but we need to address the root cause," she says. (Pittsburgh City Council passed paid-sick-day legislation in August, for which supporters often cited air quality and child-asthma issues as a reason parents may need  to miss work.) "We do see it as a false choice between a job that pollutes the planet and no job at all. We’re interested in the development of the next economy.”

Rep. Rothfus' office did not respond to phone calls for comment.

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Friday, August 21, 2015

GASP to hold event on pollution and autism tomorrow night

Posted By on Fri, Aug 21, 2015 at 1:09 PM

In the second installment of its "Making the Connection" series, the local air quality watchdog organization Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) will host a discussion on air quality and childhood autism.

"The point of this event is to help people understand the connection between various health issues and air pollution," says Rachel Filippini of GASP. (Their first installment included Environmental Protection Agency cardiologist Dr. Wayne Cascio for a discussion of the effects of air pollution on heart health.)

Tomorrow night, GASP will host University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health's Dr. Evelyn Talbott for a discussion of her team's findings on the connection between fine particulate matter pollution and childhood autism.

Talbott's 2014 findings show an increased risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) for children who were exposed to certain air toxins during early stages of life, including in the womb and during the first couple years of life.

The event will be held in conjunction with the monthly "Putting Down Roots Sustainability Salon," a monthly conversation group that his held at a Squirrel Hill residence. This will be its 43rd iteration.

Aviva Diamond of the Mom's Clean Air Force will also speak, and GASP will present on its current campaigns.

It will be held from 4-7 p.m., and the address will be given upon registration, which can be done here.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Update: Citizen group taking action against world’s largest steel company’s Monessen plant

Posted By on Tue, Aug 4, 2015 at 3:50 PM

Donora resident Viktoryia Maroz is part of an effort to bring a lawsuit against  a Monessen plant owned by ArcelorMittal USA. - PHOTO BY RYAN DETO
  • Photo by Ryan Deto
  • Donora resident Viktoryia Maroz is part of an effort to bring a lawsuit against a Monessen plant owned by ArcelorMittal USA.
Viktoryia Maroz, of Donora, a small town on the banks of the Monongahela River in Washington County, awoke at 1:30 a.m. last Saturday to a powerful stench — a smell she describes as a mix of rotten eggs and burning rubber. The culprit, she says, are fumes emanating from a coal-processing plant in neighboring Monessen.

“Even if I have the windows and doors closed, I still smell it,” says Maroz. "It is worse starting at 5 p.m. and on the weekends."

Maroz has filed dozens of complaints with the plant’s owner, ArcelorMittal USA, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the federal Environmental Protection Agency since the plant reopened in April 2014. Maroz says she has not noticed any improvement since filing her complaints, even though tests near her home have shown that contaminants, such as arsenic, have been found in the air.

“”I felt so lost, I felt like I had done it all, but there wasn’t anything being done to resolve the situation,” says Maroz.

Now, she has joined forces with other community members and the citizen-based nonprofit PennEnvironment to take the steps to form a lawsuit against AcelorMittal USA. The Chicago-based steel company is owned by the multinational Luxembourg-based AcelorMittal S.A. and is the world’s largest producer of steel.

As part of a press conference in front of the U.S. Federal Courthouse on Grant Street, PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur announced today that the “citizen suit” allows for private individuals and organizations to sue violators in federal court, after providing 60 days notice of their intent. The notice was filed yesterday.

“I’ve met with residents who live in towns all around the this plant, Donora, Monongahela, etc.,” says Masur. “Their stories about air pollution from this facility are gut-wrenching.”

PennEnvironment has compiled a list of about 80 citizen complaints to the DEP since the plant re-opened in 2014. According to a November 2014 Pittsburgh Tribune-Review article, the DEP cited the plant six times for illegal emissions over an eight-month period in 2014.

Masur adds that the plant has violated the Clean Air Act hundreds of times since it restarted.

“It is outrageous that the world’s largest steel company cannot comply with our clean-air laws,” says Masur.

The National Environmental Law Center (NELC) is partnering with PennEnvironment to assist in legal action against the steel giant. Josh Kratka, attorney for NELC, says the suit is not seeking individual damages, and they are merely “trying to get [AcelorMittal] to comply with the law.”

Kratka adds that the plant’s key air-pollution control system has been offline for a while, but the company is continuing to process coal anyway. Kratka says this is a direct violation of the Clean Air Act.

Masur hopes that a full-blown lawsuit does not have to be filed. He is confident that the 60-day waiting period will produce some sit-down meetings with the AcelorMittal, and solutions will be sought.

However, if negotiations fail, PennEnvironment is ready to force litigation to ensure the steel producer’s compliance. Masur adds that they could possibly seek on-going “mandatory minimum penalties” to be enforced when the company falls out of compliance.

Further, Masur thinks those penalties should help to fund the DEP, so that the state agency can keep a better watch on companies that are breaking the rules.

“Thousands of companies in Pennsylvania are not violating anything,” says Masur. “The DEP should not let loose the ones who are breaking the law. They should not let them slide by.”

UPDATE, 4:45 p.m.: An ArcelorMittal spokesperson sent the following statement to City Paper this afternoon:

“ArcelorMittal just learned of this potential lawsuit from PennEnvironment today. ArcelorMittal takes our environmental performance seriously. We are disappointed by the performance record of the Monessen coke plant since the facility’s May 2014 restart as we have been challenged by issues such as opacity exceedances at the No. 1 battery combustion stack. We have been working closely with regulatory authorities to address the cause of those exceedances as well as other concerns. In June 2015, we expedited a desulfurization system outage to improve the performance of the operation. In mid-July, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection performed an inspection and conducted visible emissions readings of the No.1 battery combustion stack, which demonstrated compliance with the opacity standards.

"We are committed to ensuring that the recent improvements prevent future occurrences and maintain compliance levels. We know that being a trusted and responsible user of our natural resources is the price of admission in today’s metals and mining business, and we are committed to achieving and maintaining full compliance with all environmental permits at all of our locations.”

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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Pittsburgh City Council passes urban agriculture bill

Posted By on Tue, Jul 7, 2015 at 2:15 PM

Jody Noble-Choder, of Highland Park, holds one of her Indian Runner ducks. Before today's urban agriculture amendments, Noble-Choder's animals were illegally kept in her yard. - PHOTO BY HEATHER MULL
  • Photo by Heather Mull
  • Jody Noble-Choder, of Highland Park, holds one of her Indian Runner ducks. Before today's urban agriculture amendments, Noble-Choder's animals were illegally kept in her yard.
In a unanimous vote this morning, Pittsburgh City Council passed amendments to the urban-agriculture zoning code, making it a right, rather than an exception to the law, for residents to have bees, chickens, ducks and even goats.

"We’re really grateful for the city’s leadership on this," says Marisa Manheim of Grow Pittsburgh, one of four organizations that collaborated with the Department of City Planning on the amendments. Other organizations included Pittsburgh Pro-Poultry People, Burgh Bees and the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council of Penn State Center-Pittsburgh.

Council voted 8-0 (Councilor Daniel Lavelle was absent) to change the 2011 urban-agriculture zoning code, making the process easier and cheaper for residents, and expanding the zoning areas for where urban-agriculture activities can take place.

"I'm in support because I think it removes barriers for those participating in urban agriculture," Councilor Natalia Rudiak told City Paper last week before the vote.

Under the 2011 zoning rules, residents had to apply for a variance, costing them more than $300 and taking up to four months. The new rules require a one-time fee of $70 and reduces the paperwork to just a few forms.

"It might be a couple papers and site plan that needs to be drawn, and we'll have instructions for that," says Shelly Danko-Day, the city planning open-spaces specialist.

Danko-Day says that the Department of Permits, Licenses and Inspections will likely visit a resident's home to assure that any animal enclosures are properly installed.

Another big change for the city is the fact that privately owned land in some zoning districts, including highway commercial, neighborhood commercial and industrial areas, will now be allowed to have agriculture as the primary activity on the land.

"I'm excited about that," she says. "We have a lot of vacant land that's not being utilized."

 Resident still must adhere to measurement standards. For instance, people who have a 2,000-square-foot lot, including their house or other structures, can have up to two beehives with five chickens or ducks, or two beehives with two miniature goats. The rules change depending on the size of one's property, and Grow Pittsburgh has published an easy-to-understand version on its website.

"Beyond the actual produce itself, it gives people a chance to engage with their food and understand the food system," Manheim says. "We hear about avian flu in the central U.S., and it resonates so much more when people understand the needs these animals have."

Also, the legislation now opens the door for people to sell produce from on-site farmstands from their backyards.

"We’re excited about the possibilities this will open for individuals, communities and organizations here in the city," says Heather Mikulas, of Penn State Center-Pittsburgh. "It can really have a positive impact on the quality of life. It has implications of more beautiful greens spaces, potential economic activities, healthier and more active lifestyles, and could change how the face of Pittsburgh looks."

Check out this week's City Paper on the impact of the new legislation in Wednesday's print and online editions. 

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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pittsburgh 350 climate activists march ahead of Paris talks

Posted By on Tue, Jun 23, 2015 at 12:43 PM

Pittsburgh 350, a climate activist group, marched along the Allegheny River this weekend. - PHOTO BY AARON WARNICK
  • Photo by Aaron Warnick
  • Pittsburgh 350, a climate activist group, marched along the Allegheny River this weekend.

On Sunday, Pittsburgh 350, a local chapter of the climate-activist group 350.org and which is supported by numerous other groups, led a Climate Action Rally at Allegheny Commons East Park.

Concerned Western Pennsylvanians gathered to air grievances over dirty air, to preach against oil over the sound of a bomb train — the name given to trains carrying crude oil at risk of derailing — on the nearby track, and to caution about climate change as the crowd baked under a hot Pittsburgh summer sun.

“This is the most important issue of this century” said Thom Crown of Lawrenceville. “Well, actually, it’s the most important issue of the last century … but now the conversation is beginning to change and things may actually happen.”

Crown came to the event with his wife JoAnne Buchanan and 15-year-old granddaughter Hope. Crown and Buchanan are members of the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy organization.

“I just wish I had seen more younger people,” Buchanan said. “That generation is the one that is going to be stuck with this. We’re really at a critical point."

Attendees ranged from the neighbors of industrial sites in Pittsburgh to homeowners from Greensburg who fear they’re brewing their morning coffee with frack water.

The event was attended by “around 200 throughout the day” estimated Peter Wray, a member of Pittsburgh 350’s steering committee.

“Our next goal is to get the word out to a much broader populace,” Wray said by phone on Monday.

The day started with about 30 people taking a very hot 6-mile hike from the Shenango Coke Plant to the park on the “Walk for Paris,” named for the upcoming United Nations climate summit to take place in France later this year. Afterwards, the group rallied and gained numbers at Allegheny Commons East Park to hear some speakers before a small cohort marched along Allegheny River Walk.

Mayor Bill Peduto opened the event with remarks, calling for his electorate to push Pittsburgh into being a model for environmental change.

"We have to decide locally whether we take up [clean energy initiatives] and become a model for other cities to follow and show that it can work or if we decide to be left behind in the 21st century and simply become irrelevant," Peduto said.

Video by Aaron Warnick

City Councilor Dan Gilman followed Peduto’s speech to read a proclamation that made June 21 “Climate Action Day” in Pittsburgh.

“These challenges start with very local efforts,” Councilor Dan Gilman said before reading the proclamation. “This is a truly global effort.”

Several other leaders of other local environmental groups took the stage to advocate different approaches to climate action afterwards. Many speakers referred back to Pope Francis’s newly released encyclical on climate change which was cited as a the precursor to the actions on Sunday

After the event, Wray said he was impressed with the “exceptional speakers” and the climate action solutions they presented.

“From here, we need to keep the pressure on state legislation for support of green energy” Wray says.

Pittsburgh 350 says their goal is to influence U.S. diplomats in pushing for climate action at the summit in December. 

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Friday, June 19, 2015

From Rome to Pittsburgh: Local groups rally for Climate Action after Pope's remarks

Posted By on Fri, Jun 19, 2015 at 3:22 PM

Pittsburgh 350 launch - PHOTO COURTESY OF PITTSBURGH 350
  • Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh 350
  • Pittsburgh 350 launch
On Thursday, Pope Francis, in an address to all people of the earth wrote that “the earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

The Pope’s words had been anticipated and local environmentalist group Pittsburgh 350, a chapter of the national group 350.org, organized a rally and procession for this Sunday in advance of the edict to go green from his Holiness. With a major climate summit to be held in Paris later this year, Pittsburgh 350 felt that an event coinciding with the Pope’s declaration was opportune.

“It gives us a moral basis for strong actions in Paris in December. That is our main focus at the moment,” Peter Wray of Pittsburgh 350’s steering committee says. “We want to provide support and encouragement for the U.S. to take a very strong role there.”

Pittsburgh 350 has partnered with over 30 other environmental, civic and faith groups to organize the events. Information on the event, including a list of participating organizations, can be found here.

While there is a higher purpose involved, the events will dually serve to give locals the opportunity to march and express their concerns and listen to local leaders and academics give lectures on the importance of climate action.

In the morning, Pittsburgh 350 is leading a “Walk for Paris.” While the walk isn’t nearly the 3,886 mile gap between Pittsburgh and Paris, it is still a quite long 6.5-mile march from the Shenango Coke Plant to the East Allegheny Commons, where a rally will be held.

City Councilor Dan Gilman will open the event by proclaiming June 21 as Climate Action Day. Several speakers will follow, and Mayor Bill Peduto will close the event with remarks.

The rally will be held rain or shine. If skies looks like they will rain on the parade, Wray says they'll move the rally indoors to a nearby church.

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Thursday, June 18, 2015

County Health Department debuting new 'Healthier Allegheny' plan at community meetings

Posted By on Thu, Jun 18, 2015 at 12:03 PM

  • Image courtesy of the Allegheny County Health Department
The Allegheny County Health Department is taking its Plan for a Healthier Allegheny on a small, four-stop tour.

The plan, introduced in May, seeks to educate county residents on the most “critical” facets of health care in the region.

“The foundation of good public health is to understand where you are and identify where you want to go,” ACHD Director Dr. Karen Hacker says.

The primary areas of the plan are: access to health care; chronic-disease health-risk behaviors; environmental dangers; maternity and child care; mental health; and substance abuse. The areas were chosen after a "fairly rigorous process," Hacker says, that included: an online community-health survey, 14 community meetings, an examination of existing data and input from an advisory committee. More information on that process can be found here.

While the larger plan seeks to address these primary concerns, the open-house events will operate more like health-care fairs, Hacker says. The ACHD and its community partners will set up tables to showcase online resources and introduce attendees to the master plan.

"The whole point here is to get a community consensus going to really drive change," Hacker says. "Having a plan that we can all get behind and work together on is the first step."

The greater vision of the initiative is set to roll out over a five-year period. Hacker says ACHD introduced the plan to “lead health improvement” by “[giving] everyone common goals.” Additionally, she says, the health department is seeking accreditation, and the plan is a step in the process toward that status. 

"I think the main thing is [that] the accreditation provides a real road map for improvement as a health department, and [the plan] was a very helpful organization strategy for us here at ACHD," Hacker says.

The open houses begin next week. 

Meeting dates and locations:

6:30-8 p.m. Mon., June 22. Castle Shannon Library, 3677 Myrtle Ave., Castle Shannon. 412-563-4552

6:30-8 p.m. Tue., June 23. Allegheny Intermediate Unit, 475 E. Waterfront Drive, Homestead. 412-394-5700

6:30-8 p.m. Tue., July 7. Baierl Family YMCA, 2565 Nicholson Road, Sewickley. 724-934-9622

6:30-8 p.m. Mon., July 27. Thelma Lovette YMCA, 2114 Centre Ave., Hill District. 412-315-0990

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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Allegheny County Health Department: First Round of Lawrenceville Steel Foundry Testing Finished

Posted By on Wed, Jun 10, 2015 at 10:52 AM

  • Photo by Heather Mull
The debate over a federal air-emissions permit at a steel foundry in Lawrenceville lit up local media for a few weeks last month, shining a spotlight on development and changing economics in the neighborhood. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review even framed it as "eco-wackos and hipsters vs. jobs."

The historical McConway & Torley foundry, established in the late 1800s, is now owned by Dallas-based Trinity Industries, which touts its Lawrenceville facility as the leading producer of railroad couplers (the part that holds railcars together) in the nation. 

After writing a draft permit that would significantly reduce the production levels of the McConway & Torley foundry — and jobs, the company says — the Allegheny County Health Department has finished its first round of testing that will determine how much pollution M&T actually creates.  As of right now, the health department doesn't know and the operating permit has been overdue since the 1990s.

"The preliminary results indicate that the building is much more efficient than we originally assumed," says Jim Thompson, deputy director of the ACHD. The results report will be available to the public in two-to-three weeks, he said.

In plain English, that means the actual building walls are holding in more pollution — mainly dust particles — than the health department assumed when it recently wrote the permit.

Two ACHD engineers observed the test, during which McConway & Torley operated at maximum capacity for several hours, Thompson said over the phone. He told City Paper that the protocol used was approved by the health department. A testing contractor, hired by M&T, actually ran the test, which "is the normal case," Thompson said.

But the health department can't make its decision on these results alone, Thompson says. More tests are planned for later this summer. 

"There’s another whole set of tests," he says.  "We'll be testing the emissions control devices for a number of pollutants, not just particulate matter, [but for] carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and various other air toxins. We can't really draw any conclusions about the production rate until those tests are done."

When asked whether the heavy metals emissions that the health department tracks with a monitor along M&T's perimeter would be considered, Thompson said that all concentrations of those pollutants are at a "safe level." The health department told CP in May that it is now using a standard of measurement with a higher limit for heavy metal allowances because the Environmental Protection Agency told them to.

However, nearby Lawrenceville residents and the local air quality watchdog Group Against Smog and Pollution expressed concern about levels of the heavy metal manganese that the monitor registers.

"Given the proximity of the industry to the community ... and ACHD's established policy on sources of chemical-toxicity information, the more protective [EPA] value is the one that ought to be used," Rachel Filippini, executive director of GASP, said in May.

The health department has been recording and publishing heavy metal levels at that monitor since April 2011. 

"Years of data from an upwind monitor indicating excessive levels of pollutants raises concerns of what is really coming off of the plant and into the neighborhood," said Mark Dowiak, who owns a property on the same street as the foundry two years ago.

The results report for the first health department test will be available to the public in two to three weeks. The next round of tests will begin in July.

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