Allegheny County defends anti-pollution efforts, promises to do more |

Allegheny County defends anti-pollution efforts, promises to do more

The sun rises over the Monongahela Valley as smoke slowly rises from U.S. Steel's Edgar Thompson Works in Braddock on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013.

Allegheny County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker said Thursday that officials are doing more to hold air polluters accountable than ever before, and she pledged to do more.

The statement was in response to the latest State of the Air report released Wednesday by the American Lung Association, which ranked the Pittsburgh region as the 10th worst in the country for short-term particle pollution and Allegheny County as 12th worst for year-round particle pollution.

“The Allegheny County Health Department has strengthened our enforcement actions, doing more than we ever have, but we need to — and will — strengthen them further,” Hacker said in a news release.

In November, the department partnered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to issue a violation notice against U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thompson plant in Braddock , Hacker noted.

Since 2012, eight of the county’s nine PM 2.5 monitors have met or exceeded EPA standards, the release said. The only monitor not meeting standards is in the Liberty-Clairton area, said Ryan Scarpino, department spokesman. PM 2.5 is a reference to the size of the particulate matter measured, in this case 2.5 microns or less. The particles are small enough to travel through the human respiratory system and harm lung function.

In January, the department made its civil penalties more strict.

“We now have some of the strictest regulations for coke plants in the country,” the release said. “Every day and night, inspectors are on site at coke plants in the Mon Valley to quickly identify violations.”

Particle pollution can be caused by construction, demolition, burning fossil fuels in factories and power plants, said Kevin Stewart, director of environmental health for the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.

The county has about 30 facilities that are listed as “significant sources” on the county health department’s air quality website, which was last updated in January. Of those, seven facilities are not compliant with air quality standards, the site says.

Hacker asked industry leaders to help with air pollution prevention.

“The area is on a long-term trend towards improvement, but we have further to go,” Hacker said in the statement. “We will continue to be aggressive and proactive to improve the air quality in our county, but also recognize that enforcement alone will not achieve our goals. As such, we call upon industry leaders, at both the local and regional levels, to join us in doing what is needed to accelerate change.”

Theresa Clift is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5669, [email protected] or via Twitter @tclift.

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