Updated: Sep 14
The Allegheny County Board of Health on Wednesday approved several Clean Air Fund requests, including a $340,544 proposal for a comprehensive air toxics study in the Mon Valley that would assess health risks to the community.
The request from the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) would include both passive and active air quality monitoring, as well as the addition of 10 portable hydrogen sulfide (H2S) monitors.
Officials have said the mobile H2S monitors will allow the department to position them throughout the county as needed – allowing them to more effectively investigate odor complaints from community members.
“This is a long time coming,” ACHD Deputy of Environmental Health Jim Kelly told the board. “It’s been number one on my wishlist for a long time.”
Specifically, funding will cover the cost of analyzing airborne toxic metals in the form of particulate matter, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and several other pollutants of concern.
The department said it plans to model its VOC monitoring around US Steel’s Clairton Coke and Edgar Thomson facilities after a program initiated in 2019 by the state Department of Environmental Protection to analyze benzene emissions from the now-defunct Erie Coke Corp. – something GASP this year petitioned officials to consider.
GASP has long called on ACHD to conduct additional monitoring in the communities lying in the shadow of U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works facilities and applauds the approval of the study.
“This is exactly the type of in-depth air toxics monitoring study we’ve been imploring the health department to undertake,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said. “We hope the investment in the mobile H2S monitors foreshadows a new era for ACHD – one where it prioritizes more robust, responsive monitoring and enforcement throughout the county.”
She then called on ACHD to also make transparency a priority.
“We hope the health department will work to ensure that the information garnered through this study is accessible to the public in a form that’s easy to digest,” Filippini said.
The board also approved the following Clean Air Fund proposals:
A $500,000 request from ACHD for experts and technical support that ACHD staff at an Aug. 24 Air Advisory Board meeting explained would allow the department to more effectively conduct compliance enforcement. Air Quality Program staff at the meeting alluded to a possible “surge need” for this assistance, explaining that there were “things that are upcoming that we fear.” The money, Kelly said at Wednesday’s BOH meeting, is for “unforeseen challenges.” He added: “If litigated against today, we would not have the resources to defend ourselves.” Board of Health member Dr. Edith Shapira said it’s time to send a message to industry that “we aren’t going to hamstring” the department.
A $210,000 request from ACHD for new permitting and enforcement software. The software is expected to be deployed in early 2021.
A $98,000 request from TreeVitalize would plant 200 trees in various communities in 16 Allegheny County school districts. The program will also train and educate volunteers about how to care for those trees.
A $59,560 request from Plant Five for Life would plant more than 400 trees in various Allegheny County communities including Carnegie.
The next meeting of the Allegheny County Board of Health is tentatively scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Nov. 4. The location and agenda for the meeting will be announced at a later date.
Editor’s Note: You can read the entire air toxics proposal here. Check back, this story will be updated to include any associated media reports.