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GASP Smoke Readers Observe Metallico Plumes, Talk Neville Island Air Pollution

Updated: Aug 10, 2023

On a beautiful August Thursday in Bellevue, the sounds of nature abounded - birds chirped, insects buzzed, and a gentle wind sent a shiver through a tapestry of trees overlooking the Ohio River and the industrial facilities perched on its bank.

Chief among them is the Metallico recycling operation on Neville Island, a facility that’s long been known for belching thick plumes of smoke, periodic explosions, noxious odors, and dust migration issues.

As morning melted into afternoon, the clanging of machinery and the roar of the facility’s shredder increasingly drowned out those nature noises. The racket was so loud that GASP’s longtime program manager Sue Seppi needed to raise her voice to welcome the folks assembled to learn more about the science of smoke reading.

For those who might have never heard of it: Smoke reading is a general term for people trained and certified to recognize and understand visible emissions from sources such as smokestacks, what violations look like, and how to make effective air quality reports.

Those in attendance - which included members of Allegheny County Clean Air Now (ACCAN), Valley Clean Air Now (VCAN), and students from the University of Pittsburgh - gathered around to get the skinny on how to be even more effective air quality watchdogs through analyzing those neighborhood plumes.

With clipboards and educational materials in hand, Sue led the group through a general overview of Method 9 - where to stand when making observations, how to properly analyze plumes and distinguish emissions from steam, and when to make reports to local air quality regulators when their readings show a possible violation.

As it turned out, those in attendance were quick learners: Within just a few readings, participants were shouting out the correct opacity readings for milky Metallico plumes.

“It was a great afternoon to learn more about Metallico’s operations and see - and hear -firsthand how the facility’s operations impact the everyday lives of residents who live nearby,” GASP communications manager and longtime Neville Island resident Amanda Gillooly said. “As a resident, there are other polluters on my radar and I look forward to using what I learned to help me make better complaints to the Allegheny County Health Department when they literally raise a stink.”

Sue said “it made her day” when one of the Pitt student attendees decided to apply for a free spot to attend Smoke School coming up in late September (for those who may not know: the Allegheny County Health Department sponsors a small number of residents to attend the training).

Stay tuned - more on *that* coming this fall!

Editor’s Note: This most recent smoke reading workshop was the second of four planned as part of a GASP watchdog tour of Allegheny County. Stay tuned - we might be coming to evaluate a plume near you.

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