Allegheny County readies new air quality code
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Twenty-four years after Allegheny County's first attempt to control toxic industrial air pollutants, a county Board of Health committee has agreed on more protective, public health-based guidelines.
The proposed guidelines would be used to evaluate the human health impacts of toxic emissions from new or significantly modified industrial sources. Existing sources would not be subject to the guidelines but their emissions would be factored into health risk calculations based on cumulative impact of all air toxics emissions.
The five-page air toxics policy document, produced after two years of meetings and compromise by a 22-member ad hoc committee of industry, environmental and regulatory representatives, will be offered for adoption at the Health Board's meeting July 11.
Joe Osborne, legal director for the Group Against Smog and Pollution and a member of the committee, said the new policy mandates use of the best available information about toxic chemical exposure and takes into account cumulative impacts of multiple exposures to protect public health.
"We need to wait and see how it works in practice, but I think the proposed policy is a good work product," Mr. Osborne said. "The process included people of different perspectives who came in and worked hard to both produce something we could all agree on, and that also protects the health of Allegheny County residents."
"Air toxics" are defined in the policy as pollutants that can cause cancer or other serious health effects, including reproductive problems, birth defects, respiratory illnesses or neurological problems, or emissions that "cause adverse environmental effects that are predictive of adverse human health consequences."
The county Health Department receives 20 to 50 installation permit applications a year from industries that emit air toxics and thus would be subject to review and analysis under the new guidelines.
A copy of the policy proposal obtained by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette states that the county Health Department will require new and expanding industrial facilities to analyze both the cancer-causing and non-cancer-causing health risks produced by their emissions in combination with the emissions from existing sources.
If the risk of cancer-causing health effects beyond an industrial facility's fence line -- known as the Maximum Individual Carcinogenic Risk -- is less than 1 in 100,000, the Health Department will approve the facility's permit. If the cumulative risk is greater than 1 in 10,000, the Health Department will not grant an operating permit.
If the MICR is more than 1 in 100,000 but less than 1 in 10,000, the Health Department will require additional emissions modeling and testing. It also could require the facility to conduct ambient air monitoring, install additional pollution controls to reduce toxic emissions or offset new air toxics increases by reducing emissions at other nearby industrial operations.
Donald Burke, dean of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and chair of the committee, declined to discuss the new policy, saying in a statement released by Pitt that unspecified "final agreements are still being put in place."
If approved, the new air toxics guidelines will replace the county's 1988 guidelines, which contain no exposure limits and have never been updated to reflect new chemical toxics or science. The efforts to update the guidelines began in 2005 but were halted in 2009 when the Board of Health, at the direction of the county's then-Executive Dan Onorato, tabled the proposed policy update.
First Published June 25, 2012 12:00 am