Allegheny County begins search for new public health director

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The Allegheny County Board of Health is moving quickly to replace Dr. Bruce Dixon, the longtime Health Department director it fired at it's last meeting in March.

The board has started a national search for a replacement with a want ad placed on the National Association of County & City Health Officials website.

At its meeting today, the board will named Dr. Ronald Voorhees as interim director. Dr. Vorhees is chief of the department's Office of Epidemiology and Biostatistics and previously served as chief medical officer in the New Mexico Department of Health.

But as fast as it's moving on a new director, the board has delayed yet again any action to replace the county's ineffective and outdated air toxics guidelines that date to 1988 and have never been updated.

Environmental activists plan to deliver to the board today more than 800 clean air petition signatures written on surgical masks and urging passage of stronger guidelines for industrial emissions of unhealthy air toxics.

The first work on new guidelines by a Health Board subcommittee occurred from 2005 through 2009, but its recommendations were tabled, and a new 20-member committee of environmentalists, academics, community leaders and industry representatives was appointed in January 2010.

Activists are concerned about the inability of that committee to reach a consensus on the new guidelines, especially a provision to consider the cumulative impact from existing sources when issuing a new permit, said Julie St. John, of Clean Water Action, a statewide environmental advocacy organization.

"Our major concern, since they didn't get it together to present new guidelines at this meeting is that we'll have to wait until two more months until the next meeting, July 2, while more permits are issued on the out-of-date guidelines," said Ms. St. John.

Dr. Lee Harrison, Health Board chair, did not return phone calls requesting comment Tuesday. Dr. Donald Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and chair of the county Air Toxics Committee, was out of town and could not be reached for comment.

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


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