Tougher toxic air guidance sought in North Boroughs

Burning throats, eyes hit residents

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When Avalon Manager Harry Dilmore was young, he'd wake up some mornings to find small gray pellets resting on everything outside. Most people accepted the waste as part of daily life near Neville Island, in the suburbs of the Smoky City, he said.

"All the sidewalks glistened," Mr. Dilmore recalled.


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Things have changed, and what once was acceptable is now unthinkable. While pollution in the North Boroughs today doesn't usually leave behind obvious physical residue, residents of the riverfront communities are more aware of air quality, and their leaders are expressing their concerns.

The councils of Avalon and Ben Avon passed separate resolutions April 21 urging the Allegheny County Board of Health to enact an updated version of the county Health Department air toxics guidelines. The guidelines come into play when companies apply for permission to release toxic chemicals into the air as part of their business operations. The policy is overseen by the county's Air Quality Program.

Both borough councils took the actions after hearing from residents concerned about the matter.

The decision was a no-brainer, Mr. Dilmore said.

"Council read up on it and voted for it. It's something that should be brought up and changed. The Health Department and others should look into what's going on over on Neville Island."

The Neville Island Good Neighbor Committee, made up of residents from communities near Neville Island and members of the environmental group Clean Water Action, sought the local legislation. The 13-year-old group, which includes residents of the North Boroughs communities of Avalon, Bellevue, Ben Avon, Emsworth and Neville, meets monthly.

The council resolutions bode well for the possibility of the county revising the air toxics guidelines soon, said Steven Hozdovich, an organizer for Clean Water Action. He wasn't surprised the resolutions passed.

"I think the leadership in the area recognizes there's a problem with air pollution and are open to options for changing that. The revised guidelines will provide for better planning and modeling for future pollution sources on Neville Island by requiring companies to make sure their emissions won't be harmful to residents or degrade the overall environment," Mr. Hozdovich said.

The toxics guidelines haven't been updated in 20 years, said Ben Avon Councilman Lloyd Corder. Those rules need to change to reflect the prevailing views of people today, he added.

"The old industrial mind-set of Pittsburghers has evolved into a new way of looking at the environment. The riverfronts, for example, now are often being viewed as recreational assets, rather than simply as industrial sites," Mr. Corder said. "It's about cleaner air, caring about the environment and also being aware of health concerns."

While the incidents involving visible particles on cars and sidewalks in the boroughs have markedly decreased over the past 30 years, residents' tolerance of air pollution has decreased, too. People in Avalon and the other North Boroughs are tired of feeling dumped on by pollution from Neville Island, said Ben Avon Councilman Todd Smith.

"There are days when you go outside, and people tell you their eyes and throats are burning," Mr. Smith said.


Freelance writer Jonathan Barnes can be reached in care of suburbanlinving@post-gazette.com .


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