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.