- October 12, 2021
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About 65% of overall industrial air pollution in Allegheny County comes from just 10 sources, and PennEnvironment Research and Policy Center released its “Toxic Ten” report on Tuesday to identify the worst polluters, according to Zachary Barber, a clean air advocate for PennEnvironment.
Allegheny Technologies Inc. Flat Rolled Products Holdings LLC in Brackenridge topped the list, because it “spewed 911 pounds of chromium in 2019, more than every other Toxic Ten facility combined,” according to the report.
Barber said the center looked at both the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Toxic Release Inventory for Allegheny County in 2019 and the EPA’s Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators Hazard model. The hazard model assigns pollutants a toxicity value, so through these sources PennEnvironment created scores for the companies based not only on how much pollution they produce, but how harmful it is for human health. PennEnvironment reported that the pollution included chemicals such as benzene, chromium and manganese.
“By doing this, we were able to figure out that this comparatively small handful of sources is having an outsized impact on the problem,” Barber said.
PennEnvironment reported that these “Toxic Ten” manufacturing sites released more than one million pounds of toxic air pollution in 2019, an increase from 955,000 pounds in 2016, the last time PennEnvironment released a similar report. ATI’s Brackenridge site came in second on the list that time.
Here’s the full Toxic Ten list, starting with the worst polluters:
Natalie Gillespie, vice president of communications at ATI, said the company reduced the amount of chromium released by 43% from 2014, and that the new report doesn’t tell the whole story. Gillespie said in 2020 the company reduced or shut down several process responsible for the greatest chromium emissions, but those changes were not yet reflected in the 2019 data used in the report.
“We deploy the best available technology for pollution control and the most sustainable energy systems to manufacture essential materials, and continue to improve,” Gillespie said. “For example, our emission control equipment in the melt shop performs nearly six times better than the federal standards to which we are held accountable.”
Gillespie said “it’s not surprising” that ATI’s chromium emissions exceed those of other local facilities, because it’s a key component in making stainless steel and specialty alloys. However, she also said that over the last five years the company reduced its total environmental impact (in air, water and landfills) by 84%.
The Cheswick Power Plant in Springdale topped the list in the report based off of 2016 data, but for 2019 data dropped down to seventh place.
The McConway and Torley foundry in Lawrenceville proved an example of improvement since the 2016 report, dropping out of the Toxic Ten list entirely. Barber said the machining manufacturer reduced its emissions of chromium compounds by 90% and its emissions of nickel compounds by 97%.
“After years of effort to reign in pollution there, the health department finalized stronger pollution limits a few years back,” Barber said. “…So now McConway and Torley is not on the Toxic Ten for the first time ever. It shows that when community members and environmental advocates work together we can find ways to improve harmful emissions without having to necessarily shut down the facilities. Ultimately, the solution the health department was able to craft was one that made residents and the industry happy.”
PPG’s Springdale facility entered the “Toxic Ten” list for the first time, ranking in 10th place. However, for the most part, Barber said those 10 manufacturing facilities tend to appear on the list over and over and release the bulk of the air pollution in the county.
However, some change is on the way. The Cheswick plant announced it will close in September, and U.S. Steel also recently announced it would permanently idle some of its oldest batteries at Clairton Coke Works. ATI also has plans in place to exit its standard stainless sheet products business, which it expects to further environmental sustainability improvement.
The “Toxic Ten” report also noted that several facilities on the list have unissued or expired Clean Air Act operating permits. More specifically, PennEnvironment reported that ATI’s Brackenridge facility has operated for 20 years without a legally required Clean Air Act operating permit.
“We applied for the required operating permit in a timely manner and have complied with all aspects of the process,” Gillespie said, in response. “Until a final operating permit is issued, we are operating under the installation permits that have been issued, as authorized by the administrative process.”
Barber said Allegheny County lags behind the rest of the state in the amount it charges polluters for their Clean Air Act violations. He said PennEnvironment recommended the county council to pass the ACHD’s proposal to increase these Clean Air Act permitting fees, which fund the county’s Air Quality Program.
The organization also recommended the county increase fines for illegal pollution, shut down facilities that don’t obey the requirements, and require fence line monitoring equipment for toxic pollution for quick identification of violations.