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County To Stop Air Monitoring Of Gas Well Sites, No New Monitoring Sites Proposed For 2018

Gene J. Puskar
Air quality monitors at Clairton Coke Works gather data on particulate matter every six days.

The Allegheny County Health Department is proposing to remove monitors for lead air pollution in Bridgeville and Lawrenceville at the end of this year.

The changes are outlined in the department’s Air Monitoring Network Plan for 2018, on which it is currently seeking public comment, as required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The Bridgeville lead monitor was meant to collect data on emissions from the General Electric lighting glass plant, which has ceased operations and is slated to close in August 2017. The Lawrenceville monitor is not required by the EPA and lead levels have never exceeded national air quality standards, according to the ACHD report.

ACHD program chief for air quality Jayme Graham said the county will also remove monitors at unconventional gas well sites near Pittsburgh International Airport and Deer Lakes Park because they haven’t turned up much in the way of air pollution.

“A well could be different from one location to another, but the sites that we have in Allegheny County did not show very much in the way of organic chemistry, which is what we were looking for,” Graham said.

ACHD doesn’t plan to add any new monitoring sites next year, which PennEnvironment’s Adam Garber called a continuation of the status quo.

“The Pittsburgh region has so many air quality issues,” Garber said. “We think that there should be more monitoring in general across the region and at specific facilities to understand on an ongoing basis what air quality looks like in the area, and are we meeting public health standards and how do we ratchet down the pollution.”

Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, called on the ACHD to install a monitor downwind of NRG Energy’s coal-powered generating station in Springdale.

“We’ve commented on this before and likely will again that we do believe it’s important that they put a sulfur dioxide monitor downwind of this facility because it’s a significant source of pollution in the community,” Filippini said.

Sulfur dioxide can cause respiratory problems and can combine with other molecules to form particulate matter. The plan does not currently include any monitors near that power plant.

Filippini said ACHD should also add a street-level monitor in downtown Pittsburgh. The only monitor that comes close is at Flag Plaza, near the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Crosstown Boulevard’s HOV on-ramp, technically in the Lower Hill District, but downwind of downtown.

Recent studies have indicated that there (are) a lot of diesel emissions in downtown Pittsburgh coming from trucks and buses and construction equipment, so we think the health department should install fine particulate monitors downtown at street level in order to monitor those diesel emissions,” Filippini said.

Fine particulate matter is made of microscopic particles of liquids and solids, one-thirtieth the width of a human hair. The particles are so small that they can make their way deep into the lungs and into the blood stream, and have been linked to health problems such as asthma, heart attacks and decreased lung function.

The EPA requires that ACHD monitor for carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, ozone and particulate matter. For all pollutants except carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide, the county exceeds the required number of monitors.

Several other special projects remain a part of the 2018 plan, including sampling for heavy metals near McConway & Torley Metals in Lawrenceville and monitoring of volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide in Liberty and Avalon.

The public has until Tuesday, June 20 at 4:30 p.m. to comment on the plan. It must be submitted to the EPA by July 1.