New air, old code: The county needs the updated emissions guidelines
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Allegheny County residents have been subject to outdated and outmoded guidelines on toxic air pollutants for years. It's essential that the county's board of health adopt the new air quality code put forward in June by a committee appointed to study the problem.
The five-page policy document was produced after two years of meetings and compromise by 22 industry, environmental and regulatory representatives. As the public comment period closed last Monday, the county got an earful from a spectrum of stakeholders, some saying the guidelines are too weak and others saying they are too tough.
There's an obvious message in that for the health board and for County Executive Rich Fitzgerald: Approve this balanced set of guidelines when it comes up for a board vote Sept. 5.
The 1988 code, which would be replaced, contains no exposure limits and is woefully uninformed about (and unresponsive to) new chemical emissions and research on their toxicity. Because a wealth of knowledge has been gained in the past generation, there is every reason to bring the county's guidelines into the 21st century.
Although the new code would not apply to existing pollution sources, their emissions would be factored into the health risk computations that are made to predict the overall impact of all toxic releases. Because the health department gets 20 to 50 installation permit applications a year from industries that emit toxic substances, it is necessary to have modern pollution guidelines that can address today's emissions.
Allegheny County and the broader Pittsburgh region have made tremendous strides in controlling toxic air, but more needs to be done, especially in certain high-pollution zones. Now is not the time for the county executive or the health department to retreat due to pressure from the foes of clean air.
First Published August 19, 2012 12:00 am