Hundreds Urge Allegheny County to Improve Proposed New Air Quality Rules
-- Mon Valley Plants Should Cut Pollution on Hazardous Air Days --
(Pittsburgh) – At a public hearing held by the Allegheny County Health Department last night, Mon Valley residents urged ACHD to enact new rules to stop hazardous air pollution episodes in Allegheny County. Over 300 residents from the Mon Valley and Pittsburgh have submitted public comments to ACHD supporting a strong rule to make plants in the Mon Valley, like U.S. Steel, cut their pollution when air quality rises to dangerous levels.
Several Clairton residents representing Valley Clean Air Now spoke at the hearing about how their families have been impacted by living next to U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works. “My father worked at the mill and always had breathing problems. Now my grandson has asthma. We need strong action now or my grandchildren will be fighting this fight,” said Cheryl Hurt. Art Thomas stated, “There are more dead people in Clairton from breathing the mill than from overdoses and shootings. U.S. Steel is killing us.” And Kim Meacham said, “I have lost multiple relatives from lung cancer and leukemia. We deserve to breathe. U.S. Steel is not being held accountable.”
ACHD’s proposed Mon Valley Air Pollution Episodic Rule requires companies to reduce emissions during periods of unhealthy air in the Mon Valley. In addition, ACHD would have to take additional steps to warn residents about these bad air quality days, so that families with kids, seniors, and people with breathing or heart conditions can take steps to protect themselves. Week long periods of air quality that exceeded state and federal standards in 2019 and 2020 prompted the proposed rule from ACHD.
Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania Director for Clean Water Action stated, "People are suffering now from these frequent days of dangerous air quality. Industry must cut back pollution so kids can play outside and seniors are not prisoners in their homes. But right now the rule sets no minimum standard for how much emissions must be cut by. U.S. Steel should not get to decide what will protect our health."
In written comments, Clean Water Action urged ACHD to make the following improvements:
- ACHD should not let companies decide what pollution reductions are needed but instead require at least a 5% reduction in pollution on days when air quality could make people sick. If dangerous air quality continues for multiple days, emission cuts should also increase.
- ACHD should require industry action once they see several hours of poor air quality instead of waiting 24 hour averages to be determined. When air quality is dangerous the public needs to be warned and industry needs to take immediate action.
- ACHD should ensure people receive direct notifications by using all the communication tools at its disposal (Allegheny Alerts, social media, print and TV media, reverse 911 and community contact maintained by elected officials and municipal governments). They should take added steps to make sure that schools and day cares are aware.
In addition, Clean Water Action resubmitted a letter from municipal and county elected officials. Since its original release in April the number of signatories has grown to 27 officials, including three County Council members and Mayor Peduto and six other Mayors. The letter’s message echoes those concerns provided by their constituents during the comment period. The entire letter with list of signatories can be found here.
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Since the organization’s founding during the campaign to pass the landmark Clean Water Act in 1972, Clean Water Action has worked to win strong health and environmental protections by bringing issue expertise, solution-oriented thinking, and people power to the table. www.cleanwater.org