Updated: Dec 28, 2022
The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) and other local environmental groups this week called on Allegheny County Council to do what it can to better fund the health department’s Air Quality Program.
“Our fear is that critical services the Air Quality Program provide – particularly those regarding expertise and enforcement on a local and community level – are not being funded adequately,” GASP staff attorney Ned Mulcahy said in public comments before Council Wednesday.
These comments followed a letter sent jointly to Council members earlier that day from GASP, PennFuture, Clean Water Action, PennEnvironment, and Breathe Project requesting that members “give special attention to the 2020 budget regarding how the county health department’s Air Quality Program is funded.”
In the letter, the groups pointed out “the County budget provides funding for the Health Department in a number of ways generally but the Air Quality Program, in particular, receives very little direct support.”
The funding request came in the wake of a GASP press conference, where residents and activists called on ACHD to do what it can to stem hydrogen sulfide emissions and exceedances by revising coke oven regulations.
In their letter to Council, the groups noted, “Air pollution gives the County’s role as the region’s leader a black eye and it has costs we all bear from missed workdays to critical health impacts like cancer and heart disease.”
They continued, “we believe now is the time for the County to invest in clean air by equipping the Air Quality Program with the staff and resources necessary to fulfill its mission. Given the numerous and varied ways air pollution jeopardizes public health, we believe such an investment will provide a significant and meaningful return on the dollar for Allegheny County residents.”
In the letter, the groups said they would like to see the County fund efforts to:
● Attract and retain top-tier air quality permitting experts by increasing salaries and reducing unreasonable burdens placed on them by hiring additional permitting engineers;
● Strengthen ACHD’s efforts to stop illegal air pollution by hiring more facility-specific and complaint-response inspectors as well as additional legal staff to litigate enforcement actions;
● Improve our understanding of local health impacts of air pollution and how to design programs to protect the public through hiring more public health researchers and epidemiologists; and
● Better educate and communicate with the public by hiring community liaisons to explain air quality data and address community questions.