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Toxic Ten:The Allegheny County Polluters That Are Fouling Our Air and Threatening Our Health
by Jeff Inglis, Frontier Group; Adam Garber, PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center
Allegheny County has some of the worst air pollution in the United States, putting the health of the county’s 1.2 million people at risk. Numerous pollution sources, from major sources of smog-forming pollution and soot to heavy diesel traffic, contribute to these dangerous levels of air pollution. Among those contributors are a small number of industrial facilities that release large amounts of toxic substances into the air.
Ten industrial polluters in Allegheny County emitted a total of 1.4 million pounds of toxic pollutants into the air in 2013 – including substances linked to cancer, breathing problems, heart disease and nervous system damage – according to data the facilities reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), a federal database of self-reported pollution emissions from particular types of industrial facilities.
More than one in three Allegheny County residents lives within three miles of those 10 facilities. With major industrial facilities releasing dangerous air pollutants in close proximity to large numbers of Allegheny County residents, it is critical that the Allegheny County Health Department take strong action to safeguard public health.
Figure ES-1. Locations of Top 10 Toxic Industrial Air Polluters in Allegheny County, 2013*
*Ranked by U.S. EPA’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators hazard-based result for reported releases of toxic substances to the air; see Methodology.
Air pollution harms Allegheny County residents’ health.
- Allegheny County residents live with more than twice the cancer risk from air toxics than do residents of nearby rural areas, according to a University of Pittsburgh study. In some areas, residents live with as much as 20 times greater risk of contracting cancer from exposure to all hazardous air pollutants, including those that come from industry, diesel and other fuels used for transportation, and all other sources. (See Figure ES-2.)
- Air pollution-related diseases resulted in the premature deaths of an estimated 14,636 people in western Pennsylvania between 2000 and 2008, according to an analysis and investigation by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Figure ES-2. Total Lifetime Cancer Risk from All Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) in Allegheny County as Predicted by National-Scale Air Toxics Assessment (2005)[i]
Credit: Courtesy of Drew Michanowicz
Ten industrial facilities in Allegheny County rank as leading emitters of toxic substances into the region’s air.
- Carpenter Powder Products, Bridgeville (57,781 people within three miles): Located less than a mile from Chartiers Valley High School, and within half a mile of a major shopping center, this facility melts down metals for purification and has reported releasing toxic metals linked to cancer, cardiovascular problems and breathing problems. This facility shares an address with Universal Stainless and Alloy Products (see below).
- Cheswick Power Plant, Springdale (33,615 people within three miles): This coal-fired power plant has for years been identified by health officials as one of the two worst contributors to air pollution in the county. Some of its pollution-control equipment does not operate at all times the plant is running, making its nitrogen oxide emissions higher than they could be.
- U.S. Steel, Clairton Plant, Clairton (36,869 people within three miles): The country’s largest producer of coke, a coal-derived fuel used in steel-making, has been in near constant violation of its pollution restrictions since the 2012 opening of a new oven intended to increase production.
- Allegheny Ludlum, Brackenridge (38,748 people within three miles): A steel fabrication plant located less than three-quarters of a mile from a school where unsafe levels of manganese and chromium have been measured in the air, this facility reports emitting toxic compounds that have been linked to cancer, cardiovascular problems, nervous system trouble and breathing difficulties. Its parent company, Allegheny Technologies Incorporated, also owns ATI Powder Metals in Oakdale (see below).
- ATI Powder Metals, Oakdale (18,993 people within three miles): In 2013, this alloy manufacturing plant reported releasing four times more toxic metal air pollution than it had in 2012.
- Holtec Manufacturing, Turtle Creek (70,839 people within three miles): A metal fabrication facility on the site of the former Westinghouse Electric East Pittsburgh plant reports emitting cancer-causing chromium and the neurotoxin manganese into the air. At least twice between 2010 and 2015 it has been allowed to increase its air pollution emissions.
- Universal Stainless and Alloy Products, Bridgeville (61,551 people within three miles): Universal’s steel fabrication plant reports emitting toxic metals including chromium, lead and manganese.
- McConway & Torley Foundry, Pittsburgh (147,562 people within three miles): Located in a densely populated neighborhood of Pittsburgh, this foundry reported emitting more toxic air pollution in 2012 than it had since at least 1989. The facility, which has been the target of years of complaints from residents, may for the first time be facing meaningful pollution restrictions.
- Shenango Coke Plant, Neville Island (70,598 people within three miles): Repeatedly ordered to reduce its air pollution since 1980, this coke-producing plant violated emission standards more than three days out of every four between July 2012 and September 2013.
- Harsco Metals, Natrona Heights (33,651 people within three miles): This scrap metal and slag reprocessing facility releases chromium, manganese and nickel into the air. From 2011 to 2013, its reported releases of toxic metals increased 77 percent.
The threat posed by industrial air pollution to Allegheny County residents’ health requires immediate and strong action from the Allegheny County Health Department. Specifically, the department should:
- Issue new permits or revise existing permits to ensure that Pittsburgh-area residents are not continually exposed to dangerous levels of toxic air pollution. This includes continuing to use the best available independent science to strengthen its air quality regulations so they protect public and environmental health. That also includes applying the air toxics guidelines set in 2013 to all existing facilities, not just new ones or those seeking to increase their pollution levels.
- Increase consequences for violating clean air permits, including higher fines for repeat violations and requiring a facility to shut down if it is unable to meet clean air standards.
- Require all facilities to submit to daily monitoring of toxic pollution emissions, as is common for nitrogen and sulfur oxide emissions at power plants.
- Supplement the existing countywide air quality monitoring system with additional short-term distributed monitoring campaigns, such as is being done in the Lawrenceville neighborhood, to give a more detailed picture of air pollution problems and sources throughout the county.
[i] Map generated by Drew Michanowicz using data published in Drew Michanowicz et al., University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, Center for Healthy Environments and Communities, Pittsburgh Regional Environmental Threats Analysis (PRETA) Report: PRETA Air: Hazardous Air Pollutants, August 2013, archived at web.archive.org/web/20150820150528/http://www.heinz.org/UserFiles/Library/PRETA_HAPS.pdf/.