Lawrenceville Plant Air Quality Issues To Be Addressed In Hearing

Apr 14, 2015

Eleven years ago, Tina Gaser moved into a home in Lawrenceville and right away noticed that when the wind blew in just the wrong direction she could smell the McConway & Torley Steel Foundry just a few blocks away.

A few years later, her husband had a stroke that doctors say could have been indirectly caused by high levels of fine particulate matter in the air. Tonight she will speak at a public hearing calling on the plant to live under tighter environmental controls.

“I understand that I live next to a plant and I live in the city and it’s somewhat industrial in the area where I live, but I just want McConway and Torley to be emitting a safe level [of pollution], I don’t want them to be going above what they should be going above,” Gaser said.

The plant has been in operation for more than 125 years, but due to changes in the county’s air standards, it is going through the process of obtaining a new operating permit that among other things would force the plant to cut production to meet pollution emission standards. 

The permitting process has been a long one according to Allegheny County Health Department Air Quality Program Manager Jayme Graham because of its complex nature and changes that have been made to equipment recently installed in the plant.

The permit will require monitoring of fine particulate mater and carbon monoxide.

“They’ve a number of what are called ‘bag houses’ that operate sort of like sweepers that clean the air. It’s a matter of are they adequate for this operation,” Graham said.

As part of a permit to install new equipment the health department monitored manganese and chromium levels at the fence line, and Graham said those numbers were within federal levels.

Gaser is a schoolteacher, so she has her summers off, and her husband is retired, meaning they are home on many weekdays, but they believe the fumes coming from the plant are worse on weekends.

“Some days, whole days, it’s so acrid, the fumes are so strong, that they burn my eyes and throat. That can’t be good for anybody,” Gaser said.

McConway & Torley did not comment for this report. About 30 speakers have signed up to speak Tuesday night.

“We’re getting an awful lot of information from both the company,” said Graham. “It’s more than likely because of the information that we have been receiving that we’re going to be substantially changing this permit so we’ll need to go out to public comment again”

Public comment lasts for 30 days, and if an additional public hearing is requested by the community or the company that would also have to be scheduled. For Gaser, a final permit can’t come soon enough.