Editor’s Note: This blog was updated at 9:37 a.m. to include a link to the Allegheny County Board of Health meeting. ACHD posted the video to its Facebook page Wednesday evening.
We joined fellow environmental advocates and residents Wednesday to send a message to county leaders: They must do more to protect the health and wellbeing of local residents dealing with all-too-frequent bouts of unhealthy air quality and illegal emissions from local air polluters like the U.S. Steel.
GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell was among dozens who attended a rally for clean air organized by our friends over at Penn Environment. The event took place outside the City-County building downtown just moments before the Allegheny County Board of Health was set to meet.
Many of the same people who attended and spoke out at the rally also addressed the board, imploring members to help residents and environmental watchdog groups get through to the Allegheny County Health Department that its current strategy to engage with the public lacks both transparency and timely communication on air quality matters that impact public health.
Patrick was among those who presented public comment. Here’s what he told them once they finally got to the public comments section of the meeting:
Good afternoon. I’m Patrick Campbell, the executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution. GASP is an environmental watchdog group working to improve our region’s air quality since 1969. Thank you for the opportunity to speak.
I’m before this Board to once again share our concern about extremely high concentrations of hydrogen sulfide at the Liberty monitor on April 23rd , 24th, and 25th that led to exceedances of PA’s 24-hour average standard.
For the better part of two days, H2S levels were between two and FOUR TIMES higher than the allowable level at the Liberty monitor. Unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter coupled with an overwhelming rotten egg odor spurred residents to use social media and the SmellPGH app to voice concerns, fears, and physical symptoms like itchy eyes, throat irritation, headache and asthma attacks.
GASP did what we could to alert the public about the exceedances in fine particulate matter and spikes in H2S – the highest one-hour values since 2015 – and educate them about what H2S is, how it impacts people and where it comes from here in Allegheny County. We felt we had to.
While the Allegheny County Health Department issued a Mon Valley Warning addressing the unhealthy levels of fine particulate matter, it did nothing to educate and prepare residents about how to protect themselves or their families from harmful air quality during those three days.
On the days of April 23rd , 24th, and 25th residents, and “residents” is far too much of a diminutive term. People, human beings – human beings had to choose between opening their windows to cool their homes or keep them closed to protect their health, to choose between letting their children play outside or not to limit their exposure, to choose between exercising outside or exercising indoors or skipping it altogether.
Or, or worst of all, these human beings living in the county were completely unaware of the abysmal air quality and how that harms their health because they didn’t know. GASP has been before this Board of Health before asking you to exercise your authority to EXPECT more transparent, effective communication from the county’s Health Department.
Because it is just that, a health department, charged with robust regulation, enforcement, and communication on behalf of the public so they are equipped with the best knowledge available to protect themselves during days with poor air quality.
The residents, the human beings of Allegheny County deserve to know how to protect themselves and the people they love from bad air that will hurt their health. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Note: GASP wants to be sure everyone knows that despite the press release distributed to the public indicating that a livestream option would be available for those who could not attend in person, residents, air quality advocates, and at least one member of the Pittsburgh media publicly asked ACHD through official communications channels for information on whether a stated tech issue was being fixed, or if a recording would be available.
ACHD responded only after the meeting had concluded, apologizing in a Facebook post for what it called “technical difficulties.”
“It’s unbelievably unfortunate that members of the public unable to attend in person were denied the opportunity to attend a board meeting that only occurs four times a year,” Campbell said after the meeting. “We understand that ‘technical issues’ happen, but health leaders need to understand how this looks from a resident’s perspective: They are told the health department wants to foster trust among community members and make it easier for them to access ACHD resources and meetings, but then something like this happens. We’re glad ACHD said they’re sorry, but the best apology is changed behavior.”
The recording was ultimately uploaded to ACHD’s Facebook page Wednesday evening. You can view that recording here.
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