Allegheny County Health Department Proposes to Allow More Air Pollution from Steel Plant
After Department Failed to Issue Operating Permit for 15 Years, Draft Permit Allows Even More Air Pollution from Pittsburgh-Area Plant
Pittsburgh, Pa. – The Allegheny County Health Department yesterday proposed a permit for a steel plant near Pittsburgh that would allow the release of over 2,000 tons more air pollution than an earlier draft permit, threatening public health.
As compared to a draft issued by the county last year (which already raised concerns among local community and advocacy organizations), the new proposed Clean Air Act operating permit for ATI Flat Rolled Products Holdings, LLC’s steel plant in Brackenridge would allow the plant to annually emit nearly 300 tons more nitrogen oxides (which contribute to smog), and over 50 more tons of particulate matter (soot), which can trigger heart attacks.
Already one of the dirtiest polluters in the county, the plant has never had an operating permit—even though the county was required to make a decision on the permit application 15 years ago.
“The large amounts of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide that the Department is proposing to allow are particularly alarming, given our area’s problems with these two pollutants,” said Rachel Filippini, executive director of Group Against Smog and Pollution.
Located 20 miles from downtown Pittsburgh, the ATI steel plant on average reported annual nitrogen oxide emissions of under 300 tons, between 2000 and 2014. The county’s 2016 draft permit allowed the release of over 1,000 tons of nitrogen oxides annually, and the new draft allows the release of over 1,300 tons. This is more than four times the nitrogen oxide pollution that the plant has claimed to emit in recent years.
And while the 2016 draft allowed over 1,100 tons of carbon monoxide to be emitted annually, the new draft would allow almost 3,000 tons of that pollutant per year. For particulate matter, the proposed annual limit rose from 518 tons to 575 tons.
"I am very concerned with the idea of even more pollution being allowed to come from this facility,” said Donna Frederick, who lives across the street from the steel plant. “The health department should be doing more to protect citizens’ health as opposed to giving ATI a pass to pollute.”
“We are just beginning to review the revised permit, but our initial review shows some potentially big and unlawful problems that could impact the health of the people of Western Pennsylvania,” said Patton Dycus, Senior Attorney for the Environmental Integrity Project. “We asked the county health department to fix multiple problems with the permit in comments we submitted to the department last fall, but it has apparently not fixed some of the big ones.”
The American Lung Association’s 2017 State of the Air report gives Allegheny County an “F” grade for particulate matter and smog pollution. Smog is formed when nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds from industry and cars react in sunlight. Asthmatics, children, the elderly and those who work and play outdoors are most at risk from smog’s effects, which include difficulty breathing, permanent lung damage, aggravated lung disease, and death. Similarly, numerous scientific studies have linked particulate matter exposure to a variety of problems, including premature death in people with heart or lung disease and heart attacks.
EPA estimates that in the year 2020, the reduction of one ton of nitrogen oxide from an iron and steel facility would have monetary benefits between $17,000 and $39,000 in terms of human mortality and morbidity. This means that in 2020, the proposed increase in nitrogen oxides of nearly 300 tons would correspond with a loss between nearly $5 million and $11 million in human health costs to the region.
The new draft permit would also raise the limits from a 2002 permit for the plant’s “electric arc” furnaces to even higher levels than in the 2016 draft—even though environmental groups pointed out in comments that the Department could not lawfully raise the limits to the levels it was then proposing. For over a decade, the furnaces at the ATI plant have been far exceeding their emissions limits for nitrogen oxides and other pollutants. After environmental organizations provided notice in March that they intended to sue ATI for those violations, the Health Department filed a separate lawsuit and entered into a settlement with the company, excluding environmental groups. Instead of requiring ATI to comply with its 2002 permit limits, that settlement only required the company to pay $50,000 in penalties and provide a short easement for a bike trail. It also invited the company to apply for new, higher limits.
Even though the Clean Air Act required it to make a decision on the permit application almost 15 years ago, the Department has never issued an operating permit for ATI’s Brackenridge plant. “Clean Air Act operating permits are important because they are supposed to require monitoring and reporting of pollution in order to allow citizens and the government to regularly assess whether plants are actually meeting their pollution requirements,” said Christopher Ahlers, Staff Attorney at Clean Air Council.
The Department is giving the public until Tuesday December 19 to submit comments on the new draft permit. At 6 p.m. that evening, the Department will hold a public hearing on the proposed permit in the Harrison Township Building, One Municipal Drive, Natrona Heights, 15065. “Our groups plan to submit strong comments urging the Department to comply with the Clean Air Act,” said Zachary Barber, the Western PA Field Organizer for PennEnvironment. “We encourage members of the public who live near the plant or are otherwise concerned about air pollution in our region to also submit comments and attend the hearing, to allow their voices to be heard.”
The Environmental Integrity Project is a 15-year-old nonprofit, nonpartisan organization, based in Washington, D.C., that is dedicated to the enforcement of environmental laws and holding polluters and governments accountable to protect public health.
Group Against Smog and Pollution works to improve air quality to protect human, environmental, and economic health in southwestern Pennsylvania.
Clean Air Council is a member-supported, non-profit environmental organization serving Pennsylvania and the Mid-Atlantic Region. For over 50 years, the Council has been dedicated to protecting and defending everyone’s right to a healthy environment.
PennEnvironment is a citizen-based environmental advocacy group working to promote clean air, clean water and protect our natural heritage. To find out more, visit PennEnvironmentCenter.org.