Allegheny Technologies' air pollution permit proposal sparks environmental concerns
The upcoming Dec. 19 hearing on an air pollution permit for specialty steel maker Allegheny Technologies Inc. in Harrison has unleashed an avalanche of concerns from residents and environmentalists.
The finish on the hood of Becky Miller's midnight blue Chrysler is two-tone, with an encroaching purplish color, much to her dismay.
Miller claims the damage to the finish of her car along Sycamore Street was caused by white particles emitted by next-door neighbor ATI in Harrison.
The Allegheny County Health Department disagrees and cited another Harrison business, Harsco Metals, for emission violations after the Health Department found slag dust on children's toys, play equipment and residents' vehicles.
Nevertheless, Miller and other residents are focusing their air pollution concerns squarely on ATI and its federal air pollution permit, known as a Title V permit, drafted by the Allegheny County Health Department.
The hearing will be solely for residents to express their concerns, which the health department will address later as part of the permitting process, said Jim Kelly, Health Department deputy director of environmental health.
Then, in 2018, the Health Department will send ATI's Title V permit to the federal Environmental Protection Agency for final approval.
ATI has declined to comment on the permit because it is in the public comment phase.
“It would be inappropriate for us to say anything publicly,” company spokesman Dan Greenfield said.
The permit isn't so much new as one that aggregates existing permits for the emissions of more than 90 sources at the ATI plant, Kelly said.
To address residents' general concern about air pollution from ATI and to encourage public comment for the hearing, the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) will hold a second meeting with residents who live near the plant at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the VFW, 894 Veteran Drive, Harrison.
A meeting in September drew residents complaining about the white particles on their cars and odors from the plant, said Rachel Filippini, GASP's executive director.
“Certainly, having odors and having dust and debris on your car is indication that something may be going wrong at the facility,” she said.
The four groups opposing ATI's pollution limits are: The Environmental Integrity Project, GASP, Clean Air Council and Penn Environment.
The groups claim the proposed limits of the plant's emissions are harmful to the health of people who live near the plant.
Kelly and the Health Department disagree, saying the limits are legal and not harmful to the public.
The groups say ATI's new proposed air pollution limits are about 36 percent higher than ones proposed last year in a draft of the permit.
True, Kelly said.
“While the emission limits went up, the emissions stay the same,” he said. “The limits went up because there were emissions for which there were no limits, so we had to add them to the total limits.”
Specifically, the environmental groups want the Health Department to lower the air pollution limits in the current draft of the permit to “protect public health and provide sufficient reporting so the public can know if the permit conditions are being met,” said Patton Dycus, senior attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project in Washington, D.C.
Kelly said he understands the environmental groups' concerns. “They are concerned about public health like we are,” he said.
Point of contention
But the two sides disagree on how to calculate the limits for a pollution permit.
“We have to recognize the law and a legal framework,” Kelly said of developing ATI's emission limits. “We don't just set these arbitrarily.”
At the heart of the problem seems to be a regulatory issue and how a health agency, such as the county health department, can set pollution limits that are higher than what the plan currently allows.
Those much higher permit limits leave the door open for the company to pollute, the groups contend.
But Kelly said, “Generally, there are almost no emission limits in the country based on actual emissions.”
The regulations governing developing the air pollution limits are based on operating scenarios and compliance margins.
The two sides will continue to joust after the hearing if a revised permit doesn't incorporate the groups' comments, Dycus said.