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GASP Supports Monitoring Equipment Request; Again Asks ACHD to Apply for Air Toxics Grant to Do Even More

The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) on Wednesday delivered public comments at the Allegheny County Board of Health meeting to share its support for a funding request for more than $350,000 in new air monitoring equipment—one that was subsequently approved.

GASP also reiterated its request that the Allegheny County Health Department seek an EPA grant that would help officials better monitor air toxics such as benzene and manganese.

Here are our full comments:

Good afternoon, my name is Suzanne Seppi, Project Director at Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP). I am presenting these comments for Rachel Filippini, Executive Director of GASP as she is unable to be here today.

GASP supports the County Air Program’s request to use Clean Air Funds for air monitoring equipment. It is critical that the County have the resources in place to quickly provide backup, replacement, and
additional EPA approved monitors when the need arises like it did last year following the fire at the Clairton Coke Works.

We were pleased to see in the proposal that some funding would go towards the purchase of lower-cost or portable monitors for short-term studies as well as additional equipment that could assist in visible emission enforcement.

The collection of data is critical but while the department does publish in a timely manner the data for some pollutants for example PM2.5, hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide, it does not do so for benzene monitoring data.

ACHD’s benzene monitoring method does not provide real-time results; laboratory analysis is required. But even when the analysis is complete, the Department does not publish benzene monitoring results on its website. This means members of the public who wish to review that information must formally request it through the County’s website. More troubling is that the time for benzene data delivery from the lab to ACHD often involves months of delay. Equally concerning is that benzene is not monitored every day at the Liberty Monitor. ACHD only samples for benzene from midnight to midnight every third day.

ACHD may be able to improve this situation by applying for an EPA Air Toxics Monitoring Grant. The EPA is looking to fund projects that characterize the impacts of air toxics in a community and/or that assess
the impacts of air toxics emissions from specific sources. We believe it would behoove the air program to take advantage of this funding opportunity, the deadline is quickly approaching. With this funding,
ACHD could for instance engage in the robust and comprehensive kind of benzene monitoring that the PA DEP is doing around the now shuttered Erie Coke Corporation.2

There could also be an opportunity for more comprehensive monitoring of manganese, a toxic heavy metal associated with steel-making. ACHD already monitors for manganese at McConway & Torley in Lawrenceville.
Since U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works emitted approximately 200 times more manganese than McConway & Torley, it would make sense for the department to monitor around the E.T. facility as well.

These are just two concrete examples of how the Health Department could take advantage of this tremendous grant opportunity to more robustly monitor air pollution locally. The pollutants we are talking about are a known carcinogen and neurotoxin. Having a better handle on the sources and processes creating them and then, in turn, working to reduce them is the kind of work the community expects from the Air Quality Program. Thank you.

Seppi also noted that GASP looked forward to working with ACHD’s new director, Dr. Debora Bogen, who had been named as Dr. Karen Hacker’s successor earlier in the day.

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