The effort to update Allegheny County's 1988 guidelines for controlling air emissions of toxic chemicals was controversial when it began seven years ago and remains so, as the very active public comment period on the latest proposal closed Monday.
By mid-afternoon, the Allegheny County Health Department had received more than 200 comments with more expected before the midnight deadline, said Jim Thompson, county air quality program manager.
"It's still controversial," said Mr. Thompson, noting that most of the comments received over the past 30 days were from environmental group members in support of the proposed guidelines. "The numbers really don't tell the whole story. There are still a number of companies opposing the guidelines."
The Health Department receives 20 to 50 installation permit applications a year from industries that emit air toxics and would be subject to review under the guidelines.
On Monday, a letter signed by 50 environmental, community and labor organizations and small businesses, many from areas with the biggest air pollution problems, was hand-delivered to the office of Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald urging the board of health to approve the guidelines and asking for Mr. Fitzgerald's support of the effort.
Tom Hoffman, Western Pennsylvania director of Clean Water Action, delivered the letter and said the updated guidelines are needed to protect human health and "strike a balance between jobs and clean air."
Justin Shao, a member of the Hill District Consensus Group, said his organization signed the letter and supports new air toxics controls because such emissions disproportionately affect poorer communities.
Air toxics are pollutants that can cause cancer or other serious health problems, including reproductive problems, birth defects, respiratory illnesses or neurological problems.
The Health Department would use the guidelines to evaluate the health impacts of toxic emissions from new or significantly modified industrial sources in the county. The guidelines, as proposed, would not apply to existing sources, but their emissions would be factored into health risk calculations based on cumulative impact of all air toxics emissions.
Separate comments filed Monday by Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future, a statewide environmental organization, were critical of the guidelines as proposed. PennFuture questioned the proposal's air emissions modeling and monitoring methods, and rejected its use of "offsets," or reductions from existing stationary or mobile sources of pollution, to determine if a new source of air toxics should be allowed.
"This [offset] provision ignores multiple concerns including localized impacts -- hotspots -- and health effects of these contaminants," said the PennFuture letter. "Simply offsetting emissions will not counteract the local adverse effect of the new emissions."
Mr. Fitzgerald, who has been lobbied by both supporters and opponents of the proposed guidelines, said he will "encourage the health board to move forward" on the new guidelines, but added that "there may be some things they want to take a look at" and possibly change.
The health board is scheduled to vote on the proposal at its Sept. 5 meeting.
If approved, the new guidelines would replace those passed in 1988, which contain no exposure limits and have never been updated to reflect new chemical emissions or scientific determinations of their toxicity.
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983.