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  • Allegheny Co. Health Dept. Fines Contractor $2K for Open Burning Violations, GASP Lauds Enforcement

    Editor’s Note: The Allegheny County Health Department periodically updates its website to include documents related to air quality enforcement actions. As part of our watchdog work, GASP monitors this webpage, and reports on the air quality violations posted there. The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) issued a civil penalty of $2,090 against an Elizabeth Township contractor for open burning violations. According to ACHD’s March 1 enforcement order, the fine was levied against Jeff Sorick Heating & Cooling for violations at 8914 Roberts Hollow Road in Elizabeth on Aug. 4, 2020, Aug. 13, 2021, and Jan. 12, 2022. ACHD sent inspectors to the property following citizen complaints and found that Jeff Sorick Heating & Cooling was in violation of the county’s open burning regulations because: The company was burning something other than clean wood, propane or natural gas - namely cardboard and polystyrene foam The burn pit exceeded size regulations No employee was present as required while burning was taking place The company has appealed the fine. GASP continues to follow the issue, and applauds ACHD for taking action on citizen complaints regarding wood smoke and for holding polluters accountable through enforcement action and fines. And considering spring has sprung and having a backyard fire might be on folks’ radar, we want to ask you, dear reader, to do your part, too: Don’t be a jag when it comes to wood burning. It’s one thing if you live on a large piece of property in a rural part of the county and have a small fire to roast marshmallows with the kids. It’s another thing to live in a densely populated part of town and start a smoking, raging inferno in your small yard. Because - truly - wood smoke is no joke: It contains very fine particles - ones tiny enough to reach deep into the lungs and cause myriad health ailments. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, fine particles can trigger heart attacks, stroke, irregular heart rhythms, and heart failure, especially in people who are already at risk for these conditions. Fine particles can also make asthma symptoms worse and trigger asthma attacks. So before you embark on that backyard fire, please get your learn on - ACHD has the regs spelled out right here.

  • EPA Good Neighbor Rule to Require Lower Emissions for PA Sources

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently announced new regulations that will implement a provision of the Clean Air Act known as the Good Neighbor Rule or interstate transport rule for the 2015 ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). The so-called Good Neighbor rule requires the states to prohibit emissions that significantly contribute to the nonattainment of a NAAQS - or that interfere with the maintenance of those national health-based standards - in another downwind state. EPA’s new regulations will impose new limits on emissions of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) from certain sources in Pennsylvania and 22 other states because NOx emissions contribute to the formation of ozone in downwind areas. But let’s pause here to talk about why the EPA is concerned with NOx emissions and ozone in the first place. Some Need-to-Know Info About NOx and Ozone & How They Harm Our Health Nitrogen oxides are a mixture of gases composed of nitrogen and oxygen that are released to the air from the exhaust of motor vehicles, the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. They are also produced commercially by reacting nitric acid with metals or cellulose. Nitrogen oxides are used in the production of nitric acid, lacquers, dyes, and other chemicals. Nitrogen oxides break down quickly in the atmosphere by reacting with other substances found in the air. When they react with chemicals produced by sunlight it leads to the formation of ground-level ozone (more on ozone in a bit). Low levels of nitrogen oxides in the air can irritate your eyes, nose, throat, and lungs, and could even cause coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and nausea. Breathing high levels of nitrogen oxides can cause rapid burning, spasms, and swelling of tissues in the throat and upper respiratory tract, reduced oxygenation of body tissues, a build-up of fluid in your lungs, and death. Let’s get back to ozone: It forms when sunlight chemically reacts with pollutants emitted by cars, power plants, industrial boilers, chemical plants, refineries, and even some species of trees. And it can be harmful to your health, causing everything from throat irritation and coughing to chest pain and airway inflammation. Ozone can even reduce lung function and harm lung tissue, and exposure can exacerbate conditions like asthma and other breathing issues. Some scientists have compared ozone-caused lung damage to sunburn. Understanding the Good Neighbor Rule Now that we understand the air pollutants of concern when it comes to the Good Neighbor Rule, let’s get into its nuts and bolts. The first thing you need to know is that the EPA sets the bar for what emissions “significantly contribute” to the nonattainment relatively low: Sources in an upwind state need only to contribute emissions constituting 1% of the NAAQS threshold. That means that, for the 2015 ozone standard, 0.70 parts per billion measured at an air quality monitor in a downwind state to trigger the rule. EPA performs a cost-benefit analysis to determine which sources in upwind states will need to reduce their NOx emissions - and by how much - to satisfy the Good Neighbor Rule’s requirements. States that are home to sources subject to the Good Neighbor Rule are required to address its requirements in their State Implementation Plans due to EPA within three years of the promulgation or revision of a NAAQS. Accordingly, Pennsylvania and the other 22 states should have submitted plans implementing the Good Neighbor Rule for the 2015 ozone NAAQS rule back in 2018. This means that EPA waited more than four years to finally act after the states either failed to submit required plans (like Pennsylvania did) or submitted inadequate plans. EPA’s Good Neighbor regulations focus on sources of NOx from just a few source types in certain industries: Coal- and oil-burning electric generating units Reciprocating internal combustion engines used in the pipeline transmission of natural gas Cement kilns Reheat furnaces in iron, steel, and ferroalloy mills Furnaces used to produce glass Solid waste incinerators and Industrial boilers used in several industries, including iron, steel, and ferroalloy mills; paper and pulp mills; basic chemical manufacturing; and coal products manufacturing. The new emission limits for EGUs in states where the “good neighbor” rule is triggered will be phased in using a trading program beginning this year. EPA expects that EGUs will be able to comply with the rule by optimizing control devices (typically, selective catalytic reducers) that are already installed. Sources affected by the new regulations that are not EGUs will have until 2026 to comply. When the Good Neighbor Rule & RACT Collide There's an interesting wrinkle, though: Major sources in Pennsylvania subject to the Good Neighbor Rule are also covered by what's known as Reasonably Available Control Technology III (RACT III) regulations that went into effect in Pennsylvania on Jan. 1. Although the two sets of regulations impose similar emission limits, they are not exactly the same, as this chart shows: "The major sources subject to both rules might have to reduce their Nox emissions twice in the space of three years to stay in compliance," said GASP's Senior Attorney John Baillie. “This is a remarkably short time in the context of the air pollution laws. It shows EPA is taking ozone pollution seriously."

  • GASP Hosting Free Air Quality Webinar for Officials; Participants Entered to Win Air Quality Monitor

    Recent high-profile events in and around southwestern Pennsylvania have demonstrated just how quickly a complex issue like air quality can become all-consuming. And when these incidents that threaten our health and well-being happen, residents expect their local elected and municipal officials to be able to help them. At GASP, we want to make sure that if and when air quality issues crop up locally, community leaders will have the working knowledge they need to effectively serve their constituents. That’s why we’re hosting a virtual workshop at 3 p.m. on April 19: To help municipal and elected leaders and their staff members establish a useful knowledge base and share resources and potential funding opportunities to help municipalities implement innovative environmental projects. We hope to hear from participants about how air quality relates to their own strategies and goals to ensure a safe, healthy community for their residents. We’ll touch base on a wide variety of topics, such as open burning, asbestos abatement, and air quality monitoring - all of which will be covered in more detail in a written primer provided to all participants. The workshop is free, and participants will be entered to win a free Purple Air monitor for their community. These easy-to-use monitors are simple and reliable - the data is automatically uploaded to a publicly available real-time map on their website. Are you an involved community member looking to share information with your local government? Feel free to join us and take the information home with you and to your local borough, city, or township meeting. Register here to reserve your spot.

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