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Long-Sought Episodic Weather Regulations Approved for Public Comment

UPDATE: Public comments on the Mon Valley Air Pollution Episode regulations will be accepted May 10 through 11:59 p.m. June 9. The Allegheny County Board of Health will convene a public hearing at 5 p.m. June 10 to take testimony on the modifications. GASP is reviewing the changes and will be providing analysis to help residents craft their own public comments. Until then, here’s what you need to know about the public comment period and hearing.

The Allegheny County Board of Health on Wednesday voted unanimously to approve long-sought episodic weather regulations go out for public comment. 

Allegheny County Health Department worked for more than a year to craft the regulations following pressure from residents and clean air groups like GASP to establish procedures intended to stem industrial pollution during periods of bad weather like the area experienced in December 2019.

Folks may recall that a days-long inversion resulted in local air quality exceeding the federal air quality standard for fine particulate matter six days in a row. During that same period, the region’s air quality exceeded the Pennsylvania state standard for hydrogen sulfide (H2S) eight days in a row.

GASP is taking a close look at the draft regulations and will be not only submitting our own public comments, we will also provide all the details you need to fully understand and submit your own input. Until then, here’s what we can tell you about the draft regulations:

The episodic weather regulations which would require the ACHD Air Quality Program to issue Mon Valley Air Pollution alerts. 

A “watch” would be issued when atmospheric conditions are expected to cause an exceedance of the national health-based standard for PM2.5 in any of the 32 municipalities in the affected area, with those conditions expected to last for another 24 hours. 

A “warning” would be issued once that standard has been exceeded and the weather forecast indicates that atmospheric conditions causing the exceedance are expected to persist for at least another 24 hours.

For their part, major and minor sources of fine particulate matter pollution like U.S. Steel would be required to create and submit to ACHD for approval a two-tiered action plan to be implemented when these watches and warnings are issued. 

The “watch” plan must include procedures that ensure the source is “operating in a manner consistent with good engineering and all air pollution control equipment is maintained in good working condition.”

During the warning phase, sources will be required to take certain actions to reduce their emissions. ACHD Air Quality Program officials said that could mean reducing transportation, switching or decreasing fuel use, delaying nonessential activities, or reducing, modifying or ceasing certain operations.

The regulations would also ban open burning on days where ACHD issues a Mon Valley Air Pollution watch or warning.

“We’re happy that the Board approved putting these long-awaited draft regs out to public comment,” said Rachel Filippini, executive director of GASP. “But the real proof is going to be in the plans submitted by industry.  What actions will they take to reduce emissions and will those actions be enough to make a difference?”   

Check back to the GASP website for information on the public comment period once those details are posted on the ACHD website. Until then, check out these slides presented at the BOH meeting:

In other business: 

  • The Board of Health unanimously approved a $200,000 Clean Air Fund request from ACHD to support community outreach to significantly increase participation in  the Allegheny Alerts system. Getting residents in the Mon Valley Air Pollution alert area signed up will be a priority, ACHD Deputy Director of Environmental Health Jim Kelly said. The department expects to issue a request for proposals from local nonprofits this month, with contracts to be issued in June. The outreach activities will take place during the first quarter of 2022. 
  • The board also approved ACHD’s PM10 Maintenance Plan, which is part of the county’s State Implementation Plan (SIP). The plan now goes to the state Department of Environmental Protection before being finally approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
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