Public Comment Period for Toxics Ends With Gathering of Local Businesses, Groups

Aug 13, 2012

To mark the end of the public comment period for Allegheny County's proposed new air toxics guidelines, local community groups and businesses gathered outside of the Allegheny County Courthouse and delivered a letter to County Executive Rich Fitzgerald encouraging him to sign-off on the new guidelines.

Tom Hoffman, Western Pennsylvania Director for Clean Water Action, said when a company manufactures a product, very often toxic chemicals are released in that process.  "In order to be able to do that you have to get a permit from the [Allegheny County] Health Department," Hoffman said.  "These guidelines are the rules that they use to decide whether or not to give a permit."

Hoffman said the guidelines need to be updated because the ones currently used are old.  The new guidelines are not concrete rules the County Health Department has to abide by when giving a permit to a manufacterer.  They are suggestions taken into consideration when giving a permit allowing a company to release toxics.  The County Board of Health will vote on adopting the guidelines on September 5th.  

"It updates chemicals and their list of effects," Hoffman said, "the new guidelines have sort of a new pathway to reduce toxic emissions countywide [and] they also recognize that some some communities like the Neville Island area and Clariton have had more than their share of toxic chemical pollution."

He said the new guidelines have been the result of a two-year process involving a three-pronged committee.  Hoffman called the one-third academic, one-third community and one-third business committee "blue ribbon."

The letter delivered to Fitzgerald was signed by 50 local businesses and community groups in order to show support of the updated guidelines.  Hoffman said the organizations come from a broad background.

"They are small businesses from the Neville Island area, from the McKees Rocks area, from the Clariton area, Hoffman said, "A number of community groups: some deal with environmental issues, some with economic justice issues."

One of the organizations with a more economic justice focus is Action United, who had a couple of representatives outside the courthouse.  Bill Bartlett, Organizer with Action United, says the new guidelines help them fight for low and moderate income working families.

"Our members, our communities, suffer disproportionately from asthma and other respiratory illnesses and as such it's imperative that we improve these [guidelines] and this is a tremendous step forward," Bartlett said.