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Activists question proposal to raise ATI emission limits |

Activists question proposal to raise ATI emission limits

Mary Ann Thomas
| Thursday, December 15, 2016 12:41 a.m
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Clean air activists say they intend to file suit over air pollution from Allegheny Technologies' newest mill in Harrison even though Allegheny County Health Department officials say the mill hasn't violated federal clean air standards.
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune-Review
Clean air activists say they intend to file suit over air pollution from Allegheny Technologies' newest mill in Harrison even though Allegheny County Health Department officials say the mill hasn't violated federal clean air standards.

A federal air quality permit under review by the Allegheny County Health Department proposes to allow Allegheny Technologies Inc.’s steel mill in Harrison to release more pollutants into the air than previous licenses.

Environmental groups are calling for lower air pollution limits from the ATI plant in a new permit in draft form, known as a Title V permit, that codifies previous air emission permits for the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The new limits are a regulatory formality, according to Jim Kelly, acting deputy director for the health department’s environ­mental health bureau.

“Their emissions are not expected to increase,” Kelly said, “and their emissions are lower than they were previously.”

ATI is currently not violating any federal clean air standards, according to Allegheny County records.

The new, higher limits sought in ATI’s permit do not violate those standards, Kelly said.

But that doesn’t satisfy three environmental groups who submitted comments during a recent hearing for the Title V permit: The Environmental Integrity Project, the Group Against Smog and Pollution and the Clean Air Council.

“The setting of these limits is important because if the limits are set too high, it gives the company a lot of wiggle room to pollute,” said John Baillie, attorney with the Group Against Smog and Pollution.

Specifically, the environmental groups took issue with raised limits for the Harrison plant’s two electric arc furnaces.

They contend the permit increases the limits at a time when ATI can’t meet its current emission limits from those furnaces for sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide.

Kelly agreed. He said that ATI’s emission standards have been increased in the short term but not the long term, where usage of these arc furnaces will be limited.

The health department is expected to further adjust the limits for the arc furnaces in the final permit, he said.

“The sulphur dioxide and nitrogen oxide produced at ATI is not an issue,” Kelly said, “and is minimal in comparison to other sources of pollution.”

The environmental groups are also asking for additional limits to be set for hexane, a hazardous air pollutant that results from burning natural gas.

“Those emissions potentially could be lower,” Baillie said. If ATI doesn’t apply for the proper limits to emit such hazardous air pollutants, “there’s a potential for them to be in violation of federal clean air standards.”

Kelly disagreed: “We applied the regulations, and the ATI plant’s limits in the draft permit are appropriate.”

Public weighs in

The county health department issues federal Title V air quality permits as a requirement since Congress amended the Clean Air Act in 2002.

The county is reviewing public comments for the ATI permit and is expected to finalize the permit in the spring.

Donna Frederick, who lives along Sycamore Street in Harrison, right across from the street from the mill, testified in October against the new permit at a public meeting held by the county.

Frederick says she often has to clean mill dust from her white home, which has rainbow-colored shutters and a multi-color bird bath.

She says ATI’s emissions can smell either like rotten eggs or wire burning. White dust settles on cars in the neighborhood.

She’s glad the public has a chance to go on record regarding the plant’s emissions with the Title V permits, which are reviewed every five years.

“I’m just going to keep yakking and make phone calls,” she said.

ATI declined to comment on this story.

Spokesman Dan Greenfield said, “We are working with the county on a new agreement, permits and updating the permits. We hope to have a favorable resolution.”

Mill changes record on pollution

Air quality around Highlands High School in Harrison and the neighboring community has improved greatly since ATI’s Natrona melt shop closed in 2010, according to data from the health department air-monitoring stations, including one at the high school.

The monitoring became a health department focus following a 2008 USA Today investigation that showed only 30 high schools nationwide — out of 127,800 — had poorer outside air quality than Highlands High.

Producing metals from molten raw materials has not been the most environmentally friendly pursuit and the steel mill, once known as Allegheny Ludlum, has had run-ins with state and federal regulators regarding water and air pollution.

The company paid a $1.6 million civil penalty in 2010 to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the county in a settlement for Clean Air Act violations.

But that has changed since the steel producer closed that melt shop and opened a new, state-of-the-art $1.1 billion rolling mill last year, according to the county and company officials.

The operations of the Natrona melt shop, about eight blocks from the main ATI mill, merged into a new melt shop within the main mill, which ATI calls its Brackenridge Plant despite being in Harrison.

The effects on emissions were noticeable in the sampling, according to the health department.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 724-226-4691 or

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Mary at 724-226-4691, or via Twitter .

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