After years of work, a committee chaired by Board of Health member Dr. Donald Burke finished crafting new guidelines. GASP was a member of this committee. A vote to accept the new Air Toxics Guidelines passed in November, 2012. See a guide to understanding the policy here. The policy itself is at the end of the document. You can also see GASP’s comments made to ACHD in August and in September 2012 in regards to this policy.
The previous Allegheny County Air Toxics Guidelines had been developed in 1988 and utilized decades-old air quality standards. Our understanding of the health effects of many of these chemicals had grown significantly since 1988. In order to protect our health it was critical that the guidelines be updated to reflect current science.
In Pennsylvania, coal generates a large portion our electricity, and it is the single biggest air polluter in the U.S. There are many aspects to the damage caused by coal combustion, from mining subsidence, acid mine runoff, sloppy disposal of toxic ash, and more.
Our primary foci over the years have been on the air pollution created when burning coal or waste coal and the contamination of our ground water from coal combustion waste. Click below for some highlights from past work in those areas.
GASP has been very involved in fighting air pollution coming from the Cheswick Power Plant. In the 2000s, GASP fought to have the plant upgrade their electrostatic precipitator. Learn more about the resulting legal agreement here. In 2010, GASP secured another legal agreement which ensured lead levels wouldn’t rise dramatically and which mandated more frequent lead tests of stack emissions. Learn more in our Summer 2010 Hotline.
We also have worked to reduce harm from coal ash. The toxics in coal ash can cause cancer and neurological damage in humans, as well as harm to wildlife, especially water-dwelling species.
With coal ash disposal sites in nearly every state, the threat to public health affects many communities. But low-income, countryside communities are disproportionately affected due to their close proximity to the many coal ash disposal sites.
In September 2010 GASP staff delivered comments to EPA calling on them to regulate coal ash waste as the toxic waste that it is.
DTE Shenango Coke Works
Shenango Coke stopped producing coke in mid-January of 2016 and shut down in the first half of 2016, due to a downturn in the North American steel industry.
The coke plant on Neville Island had been an issue for many years. GASP sent Smoke Readers to observe the facility, and worked with Clean Water Action, Allegheny County Clean Air Now, and other partners to keep pressure on the facility and the county health department to ensure air emissions violations ended. Watch a WTAE video of the Smoke Readers in action and hear from community members. GASP also filmed our own video that added context to the WTAE story.
In February 2014, GASP issued Shenango a 60-day Notice of Intent to Sue, for violations of the Federal Clean Air Act and/or Article XXI of the Allegheny County Health Department’s (ACHD) Rules and Regulations. In April 2014 we learned that the County and Shenango entered into a consent agreement. We found the agreement to be lacking and in May 2014 we filed a citizens’ suit to address the issues. Shenango filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. A judge granted the dismissal in late March 2015, and in April 2015 we appealed that decision. The legal proceedings ended in January 2016.
See the history of the problems with Shenango Coke and GASP’s work in this series of news articles.
EPA School Flag Program
Our School Flag Program took the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) air quality flag program into schools in the region. Students checked the air quality forecast each morning and raised a flag with a color that corresponds to the forecasted level of air pollution for that day. Students, teachers, and the community could tell at a glance how dirty the air is and take action to protect themselves.