Allegheny County health panel recommends rejecting updated air toxics rules

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An Allegheny County Health Department advisory committee has recommended that the Board of Health reject proposed air toxics guidelines that are more protective of public health than the existing guidelines.

The Air Quality Citizens Advisory Committee, which has just seven members instead of its full complement of 19, voted 5-1 with one abstention last week to urge the health board to reject the new guidelines. Five of the seven current members are industry attorneys and representatives. Its recommendation is advisory only.

Final action on the update of the county's outdated and ineffective air toxic guidelines is expected at the Health Board's next meeting on Sept. 19.

Bob Orchowski, one of the five board members who voted against the proposed guidelines, said there is agreement that the county's 24-year-old guidelines need to be updated, but questioned the "clandestine" process that produced the new proposal.

"The committee held more than 20 meetings and never once, as a professional courtesy, came back to the citizens air advisory committee," said Mr. Orchowski, owner of the Hillcrest Group LLC, a project development and consulting company. "Our citizens committee is supposed to provide guidance and recommendations to the Board of Health but we weren't given an opportunity to do that."

He said the toxics proposal as written creates uncertainty for industry and "has some real serious legal and technical issues." Those include inconsistent definitions, regulation of even small air toxics emitters and an emissions "offsets" provision that is unworkable.

"I think the proposed guidelines, if approved by the board, will be subject to legal challenges," Mr. Orchowski said.

The proposed air toxics guidelines -- produced after two years of meetings by a 22-member ad hoc committee of industry, environmental and regulatory representatives -- would replace the old guidelines, which contain no exposure limits and have never been updated to reflect new scientific findings about chemical toxicity.

The proposed guidelines, which do not carry the legal weight of laws or regulations, would be used to evaluate the health impacts of toxic emissions from new or significantly modified industrial sources. Existing sources of air toxics would not be subject to the new guidelines, but their cumulative emissions would be factored into health risk calculations.

Chester Babst III, an attorney who is solicitor for the Allegheny County Sanitary Authority and whose firm regularly represents local industries, said he voted against the proposed guidelines because they don't follow federal or state requirements for establishing risk-based exposure standards.

But Joe Osborne, legal director for the Pittsburgh-based Group Against Smog and Pollution and a member of the ad hoc committee that produced the air toxics proposal, said not only does it meet federal and state criteria but it provides more regulatory certainty to industry while better protecting human health.

"Because multiple chemical compounds can affect human health and the proposal aggregates hazardous air pollutants, it's getting much closer to addressing actual human health concerns," Mr. Osborne said.

Emissions of air toxics can cause cancer and other serious health problems, including birth defects and respiratory and neurological problems.

Daniel Bricmont, chairman of the citizens air advisory committee, voted to recommend passage of the proposed guidelines because, he said, it's long past time for new, health-based guidelines.

"My sense is that this proposal is based on better science and data than the outdated 1988 guidelines and we should take a step forward," Mr. Bricmont said.

neigh_city - region - environment

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.


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