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GASP Legal Review Leads to Stronger Air Quality Permit for Lawrenceville-Based Pressure Chemical Co.

The Allegheny County Health Department’s notice last week of air quality permits open for comment and issued in final form listed a final operating permit for Pressure Chemical Co., “to include Subpart VVVVVV language.” We’ll guess few of you are familiar with “Subpart VVVVVV,” how it might affect Pressure Chemical, or why it matters.

But at GASP, those six V’s marked a small victory and the end to an issue that began almost two years ago.  

In explaining why GASP was happy to see the facility now officially subject to Subpart VVVVVV, we figured we’d also explain a portion of the unglamorous but important work we do.

About Those Air Quality Permits…

As supporters might know, GASP’s watchdog efforts include examining drafts of air quality permits published by the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).  

By law, agencies like ACHD and DEP must give the public a chance to review certain actions before they become “final” and issuing permits falls into that category.

Examination of these documents involves GASP’s staff attorneys verifying that all applicable legal requirements are included, that limits and requirements are being applied to the facility correctly, that the math for any numerical limits adds up, and several other related details. It can be a tedious process.

Both the specific pollutants emitted and the types of activities that occur at a facility need to be analyzed. Laws and regulations at the state, local, and federal levels might apply. Taken together, that means GASP staff needs to understand – with a reasonably high level of detail – all the processes at the site that are sources of air pollution as well as all laws and regulations applicable to those sources and pollutants.

For those interested, notices of DEP permits are published weekly in the Pa Bulletin and ACHD permit notices are published here intermittently, but normally every four to six weeks.

Why GASP Took Issue with Pressure Chemical’s Draft Air Quality Permit

In February 2019, we began our examination of a draft permit for the Pressure Chemical Co. facility in Pittsburgh’s Lower Lawrenceville neighborhood. The facility is a manufacturer of specialty chemicals for various clients and does not produce a set list of products. 

“That variability caught our eye, as did the fact that the permit authorized the facility to store, utilize, and emit several different hazardous air pollutants,” GASP staff attorney Ned Mulcahy said.

While reviewing the draft permit GASP determined that it failed to include requirements for “Chemical Manufacturing Area Sources” (those “Subpart VVVVVV” requirements we mentioned earlier).  

The details of that regulation are – unsurprisingly – tedious, but essentially, they amount to on-site best-practices, emissions controls, and record-keeping requirements for smaller chemical manufacturers.

Because of the changing nature of products that Pressure Chemical manufactures, it is not clear if Subpart VVVVVV will tangibly reduce emissions but at the very least, qualifying activities on-site would be subject to additional record-keeping, reporting, and process management.

GASP jointly submitted comments with Lawrenceville Clean Air Now (LCAN) in March 2019 noting the VVVVVV deficiency along with a few other concerns. Six months later ACHD issued a final permit, having stated in its final review memorandum discussing the permit that the facility would be subject to Subpart VVVVVV requirements.

It was a small but significant victory…for about three minutes.

Due to – what GASP would discover later – was a clerical error, the actual, official operating permit issued to Pressure Chemical Co. did not include the applicable Subpart VVVVVV requirements.  

ACHD corrected the error and issued a revised permit. Pressure Chemical appealed, not over the Subpart VVVVVV applicability but specifically how compliance with it was required in the revised permit.  

Finally, in September 2020, the appeal was settled and ACHD issued the final permit. The reason for the delay between finalizing the permit and publishing notice of it is not clear.

“Having reviewed the final, final version of the operating permit, I’m happy,” Mulcahy said. “Not all of our original comments affected the permit but we helped ensure additional requirements in applicable regulations will now apply to the facility. That is hardly headline news but without our oversight, I’m not sure anyone would have noticed.  That alone makes the tedium worth it.”

Editor’s Note: You can view Pressure Chemical’s synthetic minor operating permit here.

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