The rules that the Allegheny County Health Department uses to give permits to businesses that emit toxic pollution are almost 30 years out of date.
A broad-based committee has been working for the past two years to bring these rules into the 21st century. Among the goals are reducing the overall level of toxic pollution in the county and providing special protections for communities that have withstood more than their share of its effects.
For instance, in June 2009, the Environmental Protection Agency released its National Air Toxics Assessment report. The report indicates that residents of Clairton and Glassport are exposed to toxic air pollutants that make their risk of getting cancer about 20 times greater than the national average. Specifically, it calculates the cancer risk for Clairton residents at 762 in 1 million, and for Glassport residents at 700 in 1 million—the third- and fourth-highest risk rates in the nation, respectively.
A new set of rules–developed under the guidance of Dr. Donald Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and a member of the Breathe Project leadership group–will finally be on the table for a vote at the Allegheny County Board of Health meeting on September 5. The guidelines were unanimously supported by the 24-person committee chaired by Burke, including industry representatives.
They would require new and expanding industrial facilities to analyze health risks produced by new pollution sources in combination with emissions from existing sources. The proposed rules take into account the cumulative impact of multiple air toxics sources in evaluating risks to public health. Click here for a recap from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of the board meeting where these guidelines were first presented.
At that standing-room-only meeting, Patricia DeMarco, a committee member and director of the Rachel Carson Institute, urged approval of the guidelines for the future of our health and economy. The rules, she says, declare that “we are open for business in a way that does not add to our air burden.”
Also speaking out in favor of the guidelines were PennFuture western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator Tiffany Hickman, Clean Water Action western PA director Myron Arnowitt and Bill Bartlett, a resident of Bellevue, which is impacted by pollution from Neville Island.