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Health, Science & Tech

County Air Toxics Guidelines Opened for Public Comment

The Allegheny County Board of Health postponed a vote on new air pollution regulations on Wednesday, in order to open the measure for public comments.

For newly permitted sites only, the proposed "air toxics" regulations would govern any potentially harmful industrial emissions not already restricted by the federal Clean Air Act. While the rules don't apply to existing facilities, current air quality conditions would be taken into account when determining if a new site would harm public health.

Health Board Member Dr. Donald Burke said a particular site's emissions would be permitted under two criteria. First, the cumulative emissions must not greatly increase residents' risk of developing cancer. Second, the cumulative emissions must not double the risk of developing any other disease.

Environmental advocates praised the Board's decision to govern air toxics as a group, rather than instituting separate rules for each chemical.

"By not looking at one chemical at a time, [the rule] actually gives industry more ability to make adjustments to their applications and to their processes in order to secure permits, which of course they want," said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania Director of Clean Water Action.

If a proposed industrial site's emissions were to violate the law, the applicant could continue with construction by offsetting the pollution at another facility.

Arnowitt said that's a "win-win."

"For companies, this provides more flexibility, more options for offsetting proposed emissions," said Arnowitt. "It also provides a way for something residents are very interested in, which is to address existing emissions. So, the offsets would come from those existing emissions, some of which are not that well-regulated."

Ben Avon Borough Councilman Michael Bett said he's glad the proposed guidelines would consider existing pollution sources.

"Just this past spring, we had GMI Land Company request a permit on Neville Island, but there was nothing we could do about that additional pollution that we had in that area," said Bett, referencing Shenango Coke Works. "GMI needed to be considered in isolation."

The Board of Health will take up the air toxics proposal at its next meeting on September 5.

In the meantime, Allegheny County residents can comment on the proposal in writing only. The Allegheny County Health Department's address is 3901 Penn Ave., Building 7, Pittsburgh 15201. Letters should be addressed to the Air Quality Division.

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