What the health department did next is now the source of controversy. In a January review of McConway & Torley's operations, the health department stated that it would no longer accept as an emissions control a condition the foundry had been reporting for years — that the walls of its building had been keeping 50 percent of its dust and particles away from the community. "The Department no longer allows for use of buildings as a control device for particulate matter," ACHD stated.
"In the draft permit, we assumed no building efficiency," says Jim Thompson, deputy director of the health department. "If more is leaking out, then they can't operate as much."
Now, says the health department, if McConway & Torley wants to remain in its current permit category — as a minor source of synthetic pollution — its permitted production must drop from 92,500 tons of melted steel per year to just 21,250. Last year, the foundry melted twice that, according to a public statement by Harry Klodowski, the company's environmental legal counsel, at the health department's hearing on the foundry's permit last month. Jumping into the major-pollution permit category would mean more fees and regulations for the foundry.
As to actual emissions, however, the health department doesn't know how much particulate matter is wafting out of McConway & Torley. It says it will take the next several months to monitor testing conducted by an independent company.
The threat of production loss, along with the fresh scrutiny of an industrial facility operating without the proper permits has roused public debate. In an editorial last week, for instance, the Pittsburgh Tribune Review called GASP a "rabble-rouser," saying that "eco-wackos and hipsters" started this fight.
"Some interest groups are throwing out words like ‘benzene,' ‘particulate matter' and ‘manganese' as a scare tactic," Klodowski said in his public hearing testimony. McConway & Torley executives held their ground the entire night at the front of the room, lining the space behind the podium. "We agree that safeguards should be in place to protect those that live and work in the facility and the neighborhood."
"My understanding is that [the health department] changed the formula [to calculate emissions] without warning. That goes beyond rude," said Carload Express' Peterson in a phone interview. He also testified at April's public hearing about the importance of McConway & Torley to the railroad industry.
Workers and their family members expressed concern for the more than 400 jobs at the foundry. Though the foundry didn't melt its full allowance last year, they said production cuts would cost jobs.
"I want you to go and ask the people in Homestead and Duquesne if they would like the mills back," said Russell Lange in his testimony. He identified himself as a Lawrenceville resident and foundry employee, who also had time under his belt at U.S. Steel. "I bet you they would trade the low-paying, dead-end jobs and high crime in a heartbeat for good days ... knowing you had a good job."
Tina Gaser, the woman who lives near the foundry and rents her building's storefront, painted a different picture at the meeting.
"In October 2013, 911 received a call about a carbon-monoxide detector blaring. My husband made that call. He and I both felt nauseous and light-headed, and the Pittsburgh Fire Department arrived. They tested all sources in our home and found no internal leak ... they determined that it came from outside, possibly from the plant down the street," Gaser said in her testimony.
In her testimony, she said that last summer her husband had a stroke caused by a heart rhythm that developed a blood clot, which traveled to his brain. "[It] was attributed directly to environmental causes," she told the crowd.
A monitor along the chain-link fence surrounding the facility has been measuring heavy-metal particulate matter since spring 2011. Results published on the health department's website show manganese levels averaging 50 percent above U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits. The EPA cites studies indicating a "consistent pattern" of neurotoxicity from exposure.
The health department's Thompson says the EPA told him that the measurement was no longer valid, and to use a different guideline developed by the Centers for Disease Control, which is more lax. The filter has recorded manganese levels above that CDC limit nine times over the last three years.
"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 an email to CP.
The EPA says when choosing benchmarks for cancer and noncancer risks, it uses its own guidelines first, which were developed in 1993, and then looks to other benchmarking guidelines that have since been developed in the same way — using peer reviewed processes that are supported by the Scientific Advisory Board. It says the CDC's guidelines, finalized in 2012, updated the EPA's original standards with new findings for manganese and other similar metals.
"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 lives in Beaver County but is remodeling a Lawrenceville house he recently purchased near the foundry.