Since the 1860s, the McConway & Torley foundry in Lawrenceville has been melting down scrap metal and molding it into railroad couplers.
And thanks to a recent agreement between McConway & Torley LLC and the Group Against Smog and Pollution, that process should be safer for the air near the riverside complex located on 48th Street.
"Our goal is … to show you can, in fact, work together to have good manufacturing and a safe neighborhood," says Patrick Dowd, the area's city councilor.
Under the legal settlement, M&T agreed to additional emission controls -- which the company says "exceeds legal requirements" set by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Allegheny County Health Department's air-toxics guidelines. Pollutants such as soot, carbon monoxide and heavy metals are created when the scrap metal is melted in the furnace and the molten steel is poured into molds, says Joe Osborne, GASP's legal director who spearheaded the effort.
Company spokesman David Margulies says the furnace reactivation is part of significant upgrades that have been made to the plant over the past five years. More renovation is planned. The agreement, he says, "allows us to continue modernizing the plant without having a contesting permit hearing for each process improvement."
As part of the agreement, a less-porous fabric filter will be placed on the furnace's baghouses -- chambers that collect particles, dust and fumes that are emitted during production.
Osborne likens the process to placing a sock over an exhaust pipe.
"It's a very effective way to control particulate, including particles too small to see," he says. "The smaller the particle, the more dangerous it is and the more easily it can pass your body's natural defenses."
And while all sides are happy now, it wasn't always that way.
M&T had been on Osborne's radar since Allegheny County attempted to update its 1988 air-toxics guidelines in 2009.
The guidelines were never adopted, but they would have established tougher limits for many of the air toxics. Under the 2009 standards, Osborne says, "this facility could not have gotten its permit without" better emissions control.
GASP argued that point when it appealed M&T's application for a permit to reactivate an electric arc furnace. The air-quality group also contended that air modeling conducted by the county's air-quality program -- which estimates air-pollution concentrations based on things like wind direction and pollution-emission rates -- revealed that pollutants like manganese could reach dangerous levels locally if the plant operated at full capacity.
Jim Thompson, director of the county's air-quality program, says the air modeling revealed manganese levels could have "slightly exceeded" the federal guidelines for manganese emissions, if the plant was operating "100 percent, 24/7."
At the plant's current operating levels, Thompson says there is no danger for worrisome manganese emissions. "The modeling only shows the potential."
But Obsorne says that just the possibility is cause for concern, which was part of the basis for GASP's appeal. Manganese exposure, GASP argued, causes a multitude of severe health problems and is especially dangerous to children. And, Osborne adds, "There would be nothing to prevent the facility from operating at full capacity."
As part of its permit, M&T will allow the county's air-quality program to conduct regular air monitoring at its fence line. That will allow the health department, GASP and public to see the exact emissions and their levels.
"I don't want to see any pollutants," says Dowd, "but from the standpoint of the health department, if it's within a certain zone they can accept and be comfortable with, I'm more interested in seeing [the monitoring] … [to see] what's going on."