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Allegheny health board adds leeway to pollution applications

| Thursday, Jan. 10, 2013, 12:02 a.m.

Allegheny County health officials voted Wednesday to give air polluters more leeway, reversing a decision from November that drew the ire of County Executive Rich Fitzgerald.

The County Board of Health voted 7-0 with two abstentions to allow applicants for air pollution permits to judge the health risks their pollution creates at the closest neighboring inhabited building.

That makes slightly more lenient rules the board adopted when it passed a long-awaited overhaul of guidelines to manage toxic air pollution. Under the previous vote, polluters would have had to estimate their health impact based on pollution levels at their property lines, which would have allowed less time for pollution to dissipate.

“We got what overall I think was a good policy,” said Donald S. Burke, a board member and dean of the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health who had spearheaded the overhaul. “We made some changes I probably wouldn't have made, but if it were a plan that was bad for public health, I wouldn't have voted for it.”

Fitzgerald met with Burke and others ahead of the vote, Burke said, declining to give further details.

Fitzgerald said in November he expected the board to revise its decision on where to measure impact because he offered the change as a compromise to the local business community, which opposed the rules. Fitzgerald could not immediately be reached for comment.

“I think working hand-in-hand with the county executive is in everybody's best interest,” said board member Edith Shapira, who made the motion at November's meeting to exclude the compromise from guidelines.

“I appreciate the leadership of the board of health in looking at and amending the air toxics guidelines to reflect a compromise between the environmental community and business community. Obviously, this is a complex issue,” said Fitzgerald.

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com.

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