The Allegheny County Health Department on Tuesday identified as lime the dust coating cars in a Harrison neighborhood and said it’s coming from a nearby company.
The department began investigating after getting complaints in August from residents on Opal Court and nearby High Street in the Natrona Heights area of the township.
“We have determined that the substance is primarily lime and its origin is Harsco Metals,” Jim Kelly, deputy director of environmental health, said Wednesday through a spokesman.
Kelly said the department is preparing an enforcement action. What that action will be was not specified.
Jay Cooney, vice president of global communications for Harsco Corp. in Camp Hill, Pa., said the company is cooperating with the county in its inquiry.
“As a matter of policy, however, we do not comment on potential agency matters,” he said.
The health department did not detail what Harsco is doing that is causing the lime dust to spread. The company has a facility along the Allegheny River in the Natrona area, down hill from the affected areas.
“We cannot provide additional details as this is an ongoing investigation,” health department spokesman Ryan Scarpino said.
Harsco Metals processes slag on the site, Cooney said.
“Slag is a byproduct of steel production, and we reclaim, recover and repurpose the slag,” he said.
Bob Cihil is one of those who complained to the health department. He has lived on High Street since the mid-1970s.
Cihil said the dust was a problem 10 years ago, and it resurfaced within the last three to four weeks. He said it tends to be a problem toward the end of the year and in the fall, when air is cooler in the morning.
“A lot of it has to do with weather conditions,” he said.
In the past, “it was to a point where you could see it coming down like a fog,” he said. “One time, it was on my truck between an eighth and a quarter of an inch thick.”
Cihil, 70, who used to detail cars, said the dust is like sand, and mildly corrosive. It has damaged his pickup, leaving fine scratches and countless spots that can’t be removed.
“My windows are stained with water spots and they will not clean,” he said. “The paint has water spots that will not come out.”
Cihil says Harsco has ignored his complaints. He believes the company would rather pay fines than fix the problem because paying fines is cheaper.
“I’m not going to move because of a problem like this,” he said. “They offered to detail my truck for me. How often are you going to do that? Eventually, there’s not going to be any paint left on that truck.”
Cihil said he wishes more of his neighbors would complain about the dust, so they can get the problem to stop.
“I just don’t want it to start again like it had been,” he said. “I can’t afford to buy a new truck every year. I think it’s ridiculous they can get away with it.”