Updated: Sep 9
The $4.6 million fine Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) issued against U.S. Steel for more than 800 air quality violations last week made headlines but it wasn’t the only enforcement action taken against local air polluters.
ACHD’s enforcement docket shows the department also took several actions related to asbestos violations. Here are the companies ACHD put on notice:
IDR LLC and Watts Construction Co. for violations of the county’s asbestos-related air quality regulations while renovating a property at 3519 Penn Ave. A Jan. 20 administrative field order shows that ACHD ordered the companies to immediately stop all work and cease all operations for failure to perform an asbestos survey prior to renovation activities commencing.
The order also required the companies to have the third floor of the property decontaminated by an ACHD-licensed asbestos-abatement contractor. They were also ordered to conduct air sampling.
Lolev Brewing Company for violations of the county’s asbestos-related air quality regulations during renovations at 5247 Butler St. in Lawrenceville. ACHD on March 11 ordered the company to cease all renovations for failing to conduct and submit to the department an asbestos report as required.
The administrative field order also indicated that the company also violated county air pollution regulations when it conducted abrasive blasting for paint removal without first testing it for lead content. ACHD gave the company 30 days to submit a thorough asbestos report and lab samples of the remaining paint.
Yarborough Enterprises for failing to conduct an asbestos survey as required before the start of renovations at 1125 Romine Ave. in Port Vue. ACHD on Jan. 20 ordered the company to stop all work/cease operations at the property until a thorough asbestos report with bulk testing of the remaining materials, as well as air quality sampling.
At this point, we think it’s important to give just a little more information on asbestos because so many people wrongly believe it is no longer an air quality issue of concern. It very much is – especially here in Allegheny County.
When asbestos is left undisturbed it does not pose a health risk. During renovation or demolition, however, it’s common for old, brittle asbestos products to release tiny fibers. These tasteless, odorless fibers can remain suspended in the air and enter your lungs when you inhale. And once inhaled, asbestos stays there forever.
Exposure to airborne asbestos fibers can cause serious health issues including asbestosis, lung cancer, mesothelioma, and pleural disease. And there is no safe minimum level of exposure to asbestos. An estimated 10,000 cases of asbestos-related disease occur each year in the U.S. as a result of past exposures.
It can take 20-40 years for some of these diseases to manifest, so we are currently seeing the results of exposures from the 1980s and 1990s now. Also of note: Asbestos exposure is the only known cause of mesothelioma. And health officials say that the mortality rate for mesothelioma in Allegheny County is “significantly higher” than that of both Pennsylvania and the nation.
GASP continues to remain concerned about the burgeoning number of asbestos-related violations in the county and thanks ACHD for taking action.
ACHD also issued took action related to open burning:
Brandon Tomcheck of 3109 Orchard St. in McKeesport was fined $1,700 for violating Allegheny County’s open burning rules.
A March 3 enforcement order indicates inspectors visited Tomcheck’s home on four occasions between Dec. 22, 2021, and Feb. 16 following numerous residential complaints and found evidence of illegal burning of construction materials.
The order states inspectors provided information on the regulation and provided Tomcheck with information regarding Allegheny County’s Open Burning regulations and issued two formal warnings.
“At each visit, resident stated he would change behaviors or stop. Burning activity continued after warnings,” the document stated. Tomcheck was given 30 days to pay the fine and was ordered to “cease burning activities until a compliant burn area has been established.” The order also indicates that Tomcheck failed to return a voicemail as well as a written request for a phone call.”
Then, on March 25, police were dispatched to a fire at Tomcheck’s residence, according to the order.
Of the $1,700 civil penalty, $900 was assessed as a “gravity-based component.” Little background on that: ACHD’s Civil Penalty Policy allows the department to assess a fine that reflects the potential harm that the violation may have on the public or environment and the severity of the violation and the level of cooperation from the violator.
If you’re saying to yourself right now, “What’s the big deal about woodsmoke” then we are GLAD you asked.
Here’s why: Wood smoke contains very fine particles able to reach deep into the lungs. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “fine particles can trigger heart attacks, stroke, irregular heart rhythms, and heart failure, especially in people who are already at risk for these conditions. Fine particles can (also) make asthma symptoms worse and trigger asthma attacks.”
Wood smoke contains dozens of air toxics including known human carcinogens benzene and formaldehyde. We have more information on wood smoke on our blog. Our friends at Environment and Human Health Inc. also have many resources regarding wood smoke on their website.
You can read more about Allegheny County’s open-burning rules here.
The Allegheny County Health Department also took action against a local school district and transit company for violations of Pennsylvania’s Diesel-Powered Motor Vehicle Idling Act:
ABC Transit of McKees Rocks and the Sto Rox School District were issued a warning letter from ACHD on March 4 that provided formal notice that the department had received multiple complaints from residents about buses idling excessively at 1105 Valley Street.
The letter also indicated that inspectors observed buses idling for longer than five minutes over a 60-minute span prior to loading students – which violated the Diesel-Powered Motor Act. The company and district were ordered to provide ACHD a compliance plan detailing how the issue would be resolved within 30 days or face possible fines.
GASP applauds ACHD for taking action on complaints submitted by residents and hopes it will continue to be responsive to the concerns of folks living near air pollution sources.