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What You Need to Know About Allegheny County’s Draft Episodic Weather Regulations & How to Make Your Voice Heard on Mon Valley Air Pollution

Editor’s Note: The public comment period for Allegheny County’s draft episodic weather regulations is now closed. Thank you to everyone who took the time to submit comments! We will continue to follow the issue – check back for updates.

A proposed change to Allegheny County’s Air Pollution Control Regulations aims to reduce particulate matter pollution in the Mon Valley during periods of stagnant weather patterns often a factor in poor air quality as well as exceedances of state and federal air quality standards.

The new regulation will require facilities in the defined area that produce more than 6.5 tons of pm2.5 annually and/or more than 10 tons of pm10 annually to create and submit to the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) “Mitigation Plans” for periods when poor air quality is forecast. ACHD predicts this will affect 18 facilities in the 32 listed municipalities.

During the “Watch” phase, facilities such as U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works must conduct basic checks to ensure equipment is in good working order but also ensure they have adequate staff to take actions required under the “Warning” phase.

Once a “Warning” is issued, facilities must undertake the actions listed in the mitigation plans they filed with ACHD. The specific actions will be catered to each facility and approved on a case-by-case basis.

Although the bulk of the regulation addresses industrial sources of particulate matter pollution, the proposed change will also ban all wood-burning activities when a Mon Valley Air Pollution Watch or Warning has been issued in the defined municipalities.

The County currently has regulations that cover episodes of poor air quality but they are so outdated they don’t even include actions to reduce levels of pm2.5, a substance the EPA first created an ambient air quality standard for in 1997.

GASP began calling on ACHD to strengthen the county’s episodic weather regulations in December 2019, when a prolonged inversion prevented air pollution from dissipating, resulting 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.

“The regulations are a positive step but a few concerns remain,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said. “Namely, the level of reductions required by the mitigation plans are not spelled out and the Warning phase will only begin after a rolling 24-hour average level of pm2.5 exceeds the federal standard.”

GASP is concerned that no actual reductions in pollution emissions are required during the Watch phase, a period when all signs – and ACHD – are pointing to a period of poor air quality.

“The county has been aware of the woefully outdated regulations for decades – it’s imperative that ACHD get it right,” Filippini said. “Industrial polluters need to be accountable for the emissions they spew during these bad weather events. Residents deserve that much and more.”

We encourage you to let ACHD know what you think about the regulations. 

The full text of the proposed changes, ACHD’s memo supporting the regulation, and instruction for submitting comments are all available online here:

Comments are due June 9.

For those who might need a little help getting started, here’s sample language you can use and supplement, as well as a form that will automatically route your comments to ACHD:

Editor’s Note: GASP has been advocating for updated episodic weather regulations for years. Here’s some related reading:

Mon Valley Experiences Multi-Day Bad-Air Episode, Two More Air Quality Exceedances

Long-Sought Episodic Weather Regulations Approved for Public Comment

UPDATED | Allegheny County Health Department Issues Mon Valley Air Pollution Warning; Yet Another H2S Exceedance at Liberty Monitor

Another Weekend, Another H2S Air Quality Exceedance for Mon Valley

U.S. Steel: Prove Commitment to Community by Taking Voluntary Measures to Mitigate Air Pollution During Inversions

Air Advisory Committee: Episodic Weather Regulation Ready to Go to Public Comment 

Allegheny County Health Department to Begin Sending Mon Valley Air Quality Alerts

UPDATED: Yet Another H2S Exceedance & More Unhealthy Air for Mon Valley, ACHD Responds

Advisory Committee Votes to Table Episodic Weather Regs, Health Department Says It Might Take it to the BOH Anyway

GASP’s Christmas Wish? Clean Air for the Holiday (for the First Time in Three Years)

Mon Valley Residents Suffer Another Bout of Bad Air as Allegheny County Sees 3 More Air Quality Exceedances

About That Rotten Egg Odor Plaguing Your Neighborhood, What Causes It & How U.S. Steel Can Help (If It Wanted To)

Allegheny County Health Department Responds to Extended Bout of Bad Air Quality, Again Blames the Weather

ACHD Warning of Increased Air Pollution Levels through Monday Reinforces Need for Episodic Weather Regulations

In the Face of Poor Air Quality, Allegheny County Health Department (AGAIN) Gives Far Too Much Credit to Mother Nature

UPDATED: Unhealthy Air Quality in Liberty-Clairton Underscores Need for Stricter Regs, Proactive Communications from Health Department

Same as It Ever Was: Killer Inversion in Pittsburgh Prompted GASP to Call for Tighter Regulations in 1975, Too

UPDATED: Allegheny County Health Department Announces Efforts to Combat Weather-Related Air Pollution Events Following Inversion, Days of Air Quality Exceedances

UPDATED: About Liberty-Clairton’s Bad Air Days…And How U.S. Steel Could Be a Better Neighbor

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  1. Jane Hutton says:

    I lived through Pittsburgh steel mills in the 60s, and I never saw blue skies until I moved to the suburbs in the 70s and then not all the time. Why do we have to have the worst Clairton coke plant in the USA in Pittsburgh? What have we deserved to breathe terrible particulates in our air for like 10 decades at least.
    We have a lot of asthma still in children, many many people have allergies that are terrible….and cancer is rampant.
    Why Pittsburgh?…with one of the best health care institutions in the USA. Are we the guinea pigs…so sad. Good luck to G.A.S.P.
    Please let us know how you are doing to stop this assault on all of us. The inversions are horrible….like burning tire and gas smell. Please stop this assault….clean up our beloved city.
    thank you !!!!

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