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Lawrenceville: The Priority is Protecting Public Health

In working to reduce emissions from the McConway and Torley (M&T) facility in Lawrenceville, GASP’s objective has always been to advocate for healthy air and safeguard public health.

For several years now M&T has been on our radar. In 2011, GASP and M&T entered into an agreement aimed at lowering emissions from the plant, with the goal of making the air everyone in the community breathes a little cleaner.

In the settlement M&T agreed to additional emission controls over and above those required by the Environmental Protection Agency or Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), including a more effective collection hood on the existing furnace and new, better filters on the furnace bag houses. Disappointingly, those emissions controls did not reduce pollution as significantly as we would have expected.

The recent release of the American Lung Association’s annual ‘State of the Air’ report showed that we still have some of the worst air pollution in the nation. That air pollution is generated from many sources, both stationary and mobile. The M&T facility is one source of regional air pollution–thus they must be part of the solution.

The ACHD’s recent release of a draft operating permit for the facility has provided the community, GASP, and others an opportunity to both raise concerns and address the air pollution from the facility in a comprehensive way. The health department’s action reflects an important truth: the foundry is emitting pollutants into the air we breathe every day, and all of us–from those who own the facility, to the health department, to Lawrenceville citizens–have to come together to find a solution.

Whether improved air quality is achieved through additional emissions controls or production limits is up to the company and ACHD. Our goal is simple: to ensure the health of the community is protected. Instead of creating conflict among its neighbors in Lawrenceville, M&T should focus on making rail couplings and bringing its operations into line with air quality rules.

We know a lot more about health impacts from air pollution and what kind of pollutants facilities emit than we did in the 1800s, when the company first began operating. We know now for instance that air pollution from steel melting, mold-making, and casting at M&T includes particulate matter, benzene, manganese, and other toxic pollutants that contribute to foul odors and make people sick:

  1. Manganese is a neurotoxin, and excessive exposure can cause cognitive impairment, mood disturbances, and impaired memory, balance, and coordination.

  2. Benzene is a carcinogen for which there is no known safe exposure level.

  3. Particulate matter can cause or exacerbate asthma and lead to premature death in individuals with heart and lung disease.

We know that based on 2013 reported actual emissions, compared to other stationary air pollution sources in Allegheny County, M&T was the 3rd largest source of benzene and the 3rd largest source of manganese.

In the same year that our settlement agreement was initiated back in 2011, ACHD began a special study in response to public concern about local exposure to toxic metals potentially being released into the community by M&T. In addition to chromium and lead, a monitor located on the facility’s fence line has been recording manganese for the last four years. Manganese concentration levels during this time are 53 percent higher than recommended levels from the EPA. That’s something that should concern all of us.

We have urged the ACHD to require continued and expanded air quality monitoring along the foundry’s fence line. It is critical that the health department, the company, and Lawrenceville residents have a way to know if changes at the plant result in any improvement to air quality or if the emissions are worsening.

Poor air quality puts everyone at risk–from the workers in the foundry to the parents and grandparents raising their families here, to the small business owners. Our goal is improved air quality and a healthier community where everybody can thrive.

ACHD has indicated that it is waiting on the results from stack tests at the facility and will likely put out another draft permit. This will provide the community with another opportunity to make comments. Stay tuned!

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