Environmental groups decry proposed ATI pollution levels

November 18, 2017 GMT

The Allegheny County Health Department’s new proposed pollution limits at Allegheny Technology Inc.’s specialty steel plant in Harrison threaten public health, according to four environmental groups.

But the health department, which regulates ATI’s air emissions, disagrees.

Environmentalists say ATI’s new air pollution limits are about 36 percent higher than the ones proposed last year in a draft operating permit.

Initially, the county called for a cap of 3,500 tons of air pollution released from the plant annually, but now has raised the cap to 5,500 tons of pollutants, environmentalist contend.

The four groups opposing the new pollution limits at ATI are: The Environmental Integrity Project, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Clean Air Council and Penn Environment.

ATI declined to comment. It said the air pollution permits are in the public comment phase. “It would be inappropriate for us to say anything publicly,” said Dan Greenfield, company spokesman.

The county’s calculations setting the air pollution limits for ATI’s proposed operating permits “will not violate the EPA standards for air quality,” said Jim Kelly, health department deputy director of environmental health.

“The plant’s emissions limits are either being corrected or applied where there were no limits before,” Kelly wrote in an email to the Tribune-Review on Friday.

As for the 36 percent increase in the amount of pollution the plant will be allowed to release, Kelly said the increased limits are legal and were calculated after the county received additional test results from the ATI plant.

“We now have information about emissions that we were not aware of,” Kelly said. “Therefore, new limits were set to account for these emissions, which is the reason for much of the larger emission number.”

The environmental groups say the new limits would allow ATI to annually emit nearly 300 tons more nitrogen oxide, which is a main contributor to smog. Breathing smog can cause respiratory damage.

The limits also allow for 50 more tons of particulate matter, better known as soot, which can affect the heart and the lungs.

“The large amounts of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide that the department is proposing to allow are particularly alarming, given our area’s problems with these two pollutants,” said Rachel Filippini, executive director of Group Against Smog and Pollution.

The groups are concerned that the proposed limits for ATI’s nitrogen oxide emissions are four times greater than what the company has reported releasing annually.

Between 2000 and 2014, ATI reported it released 300 tons annually.

Allegheny County proposes increasing ATI’s annual limit to 1,319 tons for the current draft permit, according to Patton Dycus, senior attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project.

Kelly said proposed limits wouldn’t change what actually comes out of the plant.

“The nitrogen oxides and particulate matter actually emitted will remain the same.

“There are new limits where there weren’t limits before,” Kelly said, which meet federal, state and local environmental regulations.

The American Lung Association this year gave Allegheny County an F grade for its air quality, citing high particulate pollution levels.

However, the association, says the region’s air quality continues to improve.

The environmental groups still are reviewing the latest permit version but, so far, Dycus says they have spotted “some potentially big and unlawful problems that could impact the health of the people of Western Pennsylvania.

“We asked the county health department to fix multiple problems with the permit in comments we submitted to the department last fall, but it has apparently not fixed some of the big ones,” he said.

The groups also accuse ATI of exceeding the pollution limits set by its 2002 permits and filed a notice to sue the company for those violations.

Instead, the groups claim, the health department filed its own suit against ATI that resulted in $50,000 in fines for the company and an agreement for ATI to provide an easement across its property for a bike trail.

The settlement, they say, did not require the company to comply with its pollution permit limits and even invited the company to apply for new, higher limits.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MaThomas_Trib.