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GASP to Health Officials: You Have a Responsibility to Residents to Do More About Mon Valley Stench

Updated: 3 days ago

GASP attended the Allegheny County Board of Health meeting Wednesday to once again request that officials provide an update to the public about ongoing exceedances of the state hydrogen sulfide standard in the Mon Valley and what’s being done to stave off the associated rotten-egg stench.

Here are the full comments presented by GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell:

Dear Allegheny County Board of Health: Good afternoon. My name is Patrick Campbell, I am the new Executive Director at the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), an environmental watchdog organization that’s been working to improve air quality for more than 50 years.
Thank you for the opportunity to present comments today. As you’re aware, GASP has come before this board to express our continued concerns about hydrogen sulfide (H2S) malodors impacting local residents in the Mon Valley.
To the Allegheny County Health Department’s credit, there’s been a good faith effort to at least better understand the source of the odors through the deployment of additional H2S monitoring. But the need for more robust communication from the department to the general public about the H2S issue is still sorely needed. 
But residents who live in the Mon Valley (and those who reside downwind of it) have been clear: This year there’s been no reprieve from the rotten egg odor they are all too familiar with.
Our members have told us as recently as last week about having to shutter their windows and avoid outdoor exercise on otherwise beautiful days because of the overwhelming stench. Frankly, this isn’t the way people should have to live in one of America’s so-called most livable cities.
Despite improvement, air quality remains not only one of Allegheny County’s most pressing public health issues but also a quality-of-life problem. And I am here today to again implore the health department to do more to acknowledge these ongoing H2S exceedances, what is causing them, and what plan is in place to abate them. 
Numbers don’t lie: In all of 2020, Allegheny County had 25 exceedances of the PA’s hydrogen sulfide standard. Meanwhile, with more than two months left in 2021, there have already been 15 exceedances at the North Braddock monitor and 39 more at Liberty.
The frequency of these air quality exceedances is truly a shame and a burden on local residents. But even more shameful is that the Allegheny County Health Department has remained largely silent on the issue.
Yes, on April 1st, the ACHD issued a Notice of Violation against US Steel for exceedances of the hydrogen sulfide ambient air quality standard at the Liberty monitor. But we have heard nothing since and the H2S exceedances persist. Monitoring air quality data and alerting residents when something isn’t right is a duty GASP takes seriously, but we can only tell residents what the data say.
We count on the health department to fill in the important details like the cause of these continually elevated levels of H2S and steps being taken to eliminate the issue. 
The simple fact is that air quality doesn’t have to be like this, and very recently wasn’t like this: Air quality monitor data show that over the first seven weeks of 2021, H2S levels were far lower compared to what we’ve experienced since. What chanWe wish we knew.
But the fact remains that the public lacks the expertise to determine those answers. At the end of the day, ACHD is the sole party that has the capacity to resolve and address the issue.
ACHD is planning to deploy additional H2S monitoring as part of a wider air quality study in the Mon Valley but the results can’t come soon enough for residents sick and tired of the stench – residents deserve answers now. And we are calling on ACHD to provide them.

In other business, the Board of Health unanimously approved making more than $578,000 from the Clean Air Fund available to the Health Department to cover normal operating expenditures in 2021 per the ACHD’s request.

Why that amount? Allegheny County’s air pollution regulations allow the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) to use 5 percent of the Clean Air Fund balance annually to “fund the normal operating costs of the County’s Air Quality Program.”

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