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Allegheny County Board of Health Approves Two Clean Air Fund Requests, Updates Community on Search for New Health Director

Members of the Allegheny County Board of Health on Wednesday lauded the accomplishments of outgoing department director Dr. Karen Hacker, who they called “a tough act to follow.” Hacker, they said, “engaged the community in ways we’ve never seen before.”

ACHD announced in May that Hacker was leaving her role to take a position with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), where she will serve as the director of the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

During the meeting – her last as director of the Allegheny County Health Department – Hacker introduced her interim successor, Deputy Director of Administration Ron Sugar, who has been with the department for five years.

Hacker noted that because Sugar is not a medical doctor, Dr. Kristen Mertz will work alongside him as interim medical director until the director position can be filled.

An update was also given on the national search for Hacker’s replacement.

A national firm was hired to spearhead the search, and a nine-member committee, co-chaired by Board of Health member Edith Shapira, M.D. and Heinz Endowments President Grant Oliphant, was formed to oversee the process.

Semifinalists for the director position are expected to be identified by September, with interviews to take place shortly thereafter.

The board hopes to be in a position to hire the successful candidate by November, with the new director coming on board “as soon as possible.”

In her final report, Hacker said she hoped ACHD would “continue the momentum,” and noted that the county has long suffered from what she referred to as “legacy pollution.”

“We are only now starting to confront that,” she said. “There is so much more to do.”

Hacker encouraged the department to “stay on it and keep moving forward” with efforts to clean up air and water pollution reduction efforts.

She added that the department was preparing a Climate Change Action Plan, something she described as a “first small step.”

“It’s hitting us in the face,” she said of climate change, adding that she feared the county would deal with associated health issues “reactively instead of proactively.”

In other business:

  • Air Program Director Jayme Graham told the board that the department would be changing its permit fees/structure for major and minor emissions sources. Proposed changes to the fee structure are being made to bring it in line with those of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which are being amended. The board voted to authorize the proposal to amend fee types and names for public comment. The new amounts of those fees will be presented at a future board meeting. “We are bringing in less than what we need to operate,” Graham said.
  • Deputy Director of Environmental Health, Jim Kelly, gave an update on the department’s recent air quality enforcement actions. He noted that Metalico on Neville Island would likely be issued a Notice of Violation letter, which comes in the wake of 55 recent odor and noise complaints. More information on emissions issues related to Metalico can be accessed here.
  • Kelly also gave an update on ACHD’s settlement agreement with U.S. Steel, which calls for the company to pay a more than $2 million penalty and make upgrades to its pollution control systems, among other things. He noted that the settlement was put out for public comment, and that a public hearing will be held July 30 to solicit input from residents. He said the department is hopeful residents will weigh in specifically on a community fund that will be created as part of the settlement. He said the community fund, and how it will be administered, is “not well defined.”
  • The board approved two Clean Air Fund requests. One was a $90,000 request for tree planting in county parks. The other was a $300,000 request to fund a local pediatric asthma registry.

Editor’s Note: Also wanted to pass along this story from the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review: Allegheny County Board of Health Approves $300,000 for Asthma Study, $90K for Trees. 

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