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Concerns raised about air quality rules

| Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

The last in a series of public hearings on air quality stand ards being developed by the Allegheny County Health Department drew fewer than two dozen people on Tuesday night.

But a number of the people who attended the meeting in the Clairton Education Center still have concerns about whether the stricter pollution standards being proposed do enough to protect public health.

William Donofrio of Glassport, who owns the company Your Environment, called on county officials to consider making a test available to determine the danger posed to people living in areas near heavy manufacturing plants, such as the Mon Valley.

“Any time you breathe particulates from the air, they may contain arsenic, mercury and heavy metals,” he said. “We need to set up some type of health prevention program to test for that.”

Jeff White of Elizabeth, a member of the Clean Water Action Steering Committee, said the stricter air pollution standards being proposed should help improve air quality, but more can be done to monitor plant emissions.

“We now have two monitoring stations (in Liberty and Clairton),” White said. “Increasing the amount of monitoring that takes place by adding additional monitors would definitely be a good thing.”

Jim Thompson, air quality program manager for the health department, said much of the improvements to air quality will come from the $500 million in improvements under way at U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works.

Tiffany Hickman, Western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for the environmental organization PennFuture , said concerns that have been raised by residents and environmentalists need to be addressed before the plan is finalized.

“We're worried that there are some flaws in the modeling process used in developing this plan, such as underpredicting sources of pollution,” she said after the hearing.

“Resid ents in the Liberty-Clairton area deserve to have the best plan in place to improve the air quality where they live,” she said.

Thompson said comments made at the public meetings, as well as those submitted to the county, in writing will be considered before a final draft is submitted to the Allegheny County Board of Health for a vote, which could occur in May.

Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or tlarussa@tribweb.com.

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