Proposal takes aim at toxic air pollutants

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An Allegheny County Board of Health committee proposed new guidelines Wednesday for the control of toxic air pollutants that the committee hopes will replace standards last updated in 1988.

The guidelines would require new and expanding industrial facilities to analyze health risks produced by their new pollution sources in combination with emissions from existing sources. The guidelines take into account the cumulative impact of multiple air toxics sources in evaluating risks to public health.

The board will vote on the guidelines Sept. 5.

The air quality committee's proposed guidelines followed two years of study and included participation from environmental groups, scientists, community members and industry representatives.

Donald Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and chairman of the committee, said the group had set out to improve on an earlier draft by making it easier for industry to comply with the new standards.

"We were trying hard to make sure the revised guidelines met the needs of industry," he said. He explained that the guidelines allowed facilities to offset new air toxics increases by reducing emissions at other nearby industrial operations or reducing emissions from vehicles associated with the facility. Industry representatives on the committee unanimously supported the guidelines.

During public testimony, Bellevue resident Bill Bartlett and Ben Avon councilman Michael Bett both described the harmful health effects of living downwind from Neville Island, where a number of chemical plants are located within a single square mile. They said treating air toxics producers in isolation, as the old standards did, ignored the cumulative effects of nearby chemical plants.

Patricia DeMarco, a committee member from a local environmental group, emphasized that the guidelines were not hostile to industry.

"We're open for business of a kind that does not add to our air burden," she said.

Myron Arnowitt, a committee member and advocate from Clean Water Action, said the committee incorporated industry input because "industry was much more engaged than they've been in the past."

Also at its meeting Wednesday, the health board signaled strong support for the proposed elimination of the 1,500-foot restriction on needle exchange locations.

Representatives of Prevention Point Pittsburgh, which provides needle exchange services to injection drug-users to reduce the risk of HIV and other infections, argued that the current rule prohibiting locations within 1,500 feet of schools, day-care centers, and drug-treatment facilities compromised their ability to serve public health needs.

Renee Cox, executive director of the group, called the county's regulation one of the most restrictive in the country.

Ms. Cox presented a map to the board, showing the restriction would prohibit the establishment of new locations in most of Pittsburgh. She said any new location already requires approval on a case-by-case basis from the Board of Health, Pittsburgh City Council, and County Council, mitigating the need for blanket restrictions.

Prevention Point currently operates two locations in Oakland and the Hill District.

The health board plans to vote Sept. 5 on the measure, which County Council would also need to approve.

region - environment - health

Benjamin Mueller: bmueller@post-gazette.com, 412-263-4903.


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