PennEnvironment
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90.5 WESA
By
Emily Stock & Deanna Garcia

The Penn Environment Research and Policy Center named Allegheny County's ten most toxic industrial pollutants on Monday. The list ranks power facilities by how much pollution they produce, emphasizing that even though the air looks clean in the region, it may not be.

Adam Garber, field director for the statewide advocacy organization, explains that though many thought the issue of industrial pollution was a thing of the past, its effects still plague the Pittsburgh region.

“We wanted to do this in Allegheny County, cut for its history of air pollution problems, and because previous studies have already shown that you’re at a higher risk in the county for cancer from industrial polluters,” Garber said.

In 2013, 1.4 million pounds of toxic pollutants were released from these ten industrial polluters, including substances linked to cancer, heart disease, nervous system damage and breathing problems. Garber said that while Pittsburgh has made great strides to clean up the air, it still ranks among the nation's top .3 percent for cancer as a result of industrial pollution.

“The industrial history of the city just takes years to recover from,” he said.

Carpenter Powder Products in Bridgeville ranked first for high emissions of chromium, a highly toxic chemical when it’s emitted into the air, Garber said. Officials at Carpenter did not return calls for comment. The facility shares property with another ranking offender, Universal Stainless and Alloy Products, which appeared seventh.

“Power plants tend to rank pretty highly when you look at air pollution because they put out a huge amount of it,” said Garber. “What’s noticeable in (Springdale-based Cheswick Power Plant's) case is it has a huge amount of arsenic compounds coming out of it. Everyone knows arsenic -- everyone knows not to drink it -- but you also don’t want to breathe it in.”

In a statement from May 2015, NRG Energy, which owns Cheswick Power Plant, said it was in compliance with its permits and federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements.

This, after a class action lawsuit against the company was dropped.

Spokesman David Gaier said in an email Monday that the voluntary dismissal provided that none of the plaintiffs ever established any claims against NRG for personal injuries, property damage or environmental contamination that constituted negligence, nuisance, trespass or strict liability. The order provides that plaintiffs never established that NRG has operated its Cheswick Generating Station improperly or outside of the limits imposed by its operating permit. 

Gaier said Cheswick, which ranked second on PennEnvironment's Toxic Ten list, operates the Selective Catalytic Reduction system to comply with the new national emissions rule called the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. Recent company investments for environment safegaurds total more than $400 million, he said.

The Penn Environment Research and Policy Center pulled reports from the Environmental Protection Agency database of toxic emissions, the Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators and cross-referenced the data to produce a hazard risk score for each facility. From there, the facilities are ranked based on risk score, emitted pollution and public health risk. 

Gaier maintains the list refers to emissions that are not included in TRI reporting.

Garber agreed that most of the toxins PennEnvironment reported are legal, but said the data they pull is self-reported, meaning companies may overlook their own violations.

He encouraged those living and working nearby to contact the Allegheny County Health Department about any uncertainties, especially if residents experience toxic smells in their home.

“If everyone spoke up about the smells and the health concerns associated with them, I think we’d see a significant change in some of these standards.”

Residents can look online determine the proximity of their residence to one of these facilities, and see what the health risks may be in that area.

“Together we can actually clean up these, and many of the other polluters in the area, and make Pittsburgh a safer place for everyone to live.”