ShareThis Page

Panel gathers concerns about air toxics

Tony LaRussa
| Tuesday, April 10, 2012, 12:00 p.m.

A committee developing new guidelines for issuing permits to plants that emit toxic air pollutants conducted the last of its public "listening sessions" on Monday as it prepares to submit recommendations to the Allegheny County Board of Health.

No date has been set for when the 20-member committee of university professors, industry representatives and environmentalists will submit the guidelines to the health board for a vote.

Jim Thompson, manager of the county's Air Quality Control Program, is hoping the guidelines will become an essential tool for protecting public health.

"The reason we need these guidelines is that the federal and state regulations are not enough," Thompson said, noting that while those agencies have "rules and regulations," they often do not go far enough in addressing concerns in areas where there are high concentrations of industry.

Clairton was selected for the public meeting because it is home to the nation's largest coke works, which is owned by U.S. Steel.

A similar session was conducted in May in Avalon, which has been plagued by pollution emissions from a coke plant on Neville Island.

The air toxics guidelines the county currently uses when issuing 30 to 40 permits a year to companies that release pollutants date back to 1988, Thompson said.

Many of the 35 people who attended last night's session at the Clairton Municipal Building raised concerns ranging from the annoyance of air that smells bad to the possible health risks of breathing air that contains known cancer-causing toxins.

"The air positively stinks," said Pat Jones, who echoed many of the comments raised.

Irene Townsend said she has been suffering from asthma since returning to the Mon Valley after a 23-year absence.

Donald Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health and chairman of the committee developing the guidelines, said many of the comments made at the meeting are representative of the "strong feelings" people have expressed throughout the process.

Rose Bezy of Monongahela, Washington County, asked whether the new guidelines would apply to the burgeoning Marcellus shale industry.

"A lot of studies, especially from out west, talk about the air pollution it creates, especially from increased truck traffic," she said.

Thompson said while the county cannot regulate vehicle emissions, the guidelines will be used when issuing permits for natural gas facilities that emit pollutants, such as compression stations.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.

click me