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Allegheny County seeks crackdown on polluters

Thursday, November 06, 2003

By Anita Srikameswaran, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The Allegheny County Board of Health opted to move forward yesterday to develop regulations for enforcing the county's so-called "bad actor" ordinance, which would deny permits for new or expanded facilities to companies that are in violation of county air pollution standards.

The ordinance was passed by County Council in August, but the county Health Department can enforce only regulations that have been approved by the health board.

At yesterday's health board meeting, board member Paul King said more than 200 comments on the bad actor ordinance were received during a public comment period and a public hearing this fall. He indicated he would have a draft set of regulations ready for the board to consider at its January meeting.

If the draft is approved, a 30-day comment period will likely begin in late January or February. After considering the responses, the board would develop and vote on a final version, which must then be submitted to County Council and the county chief executive for approval, said Guillermo Cole, department spokesman.

"In the meantime, we'd like them to specifically say they're going to enforce the bad actor ordinance that County Council passed," said Myron Arnowitt, regional director of the environmental group Clean Water Action. "We've seen the board of health go back and forth on this issue a number of times already, so we would like to see a more definitive statement out of them."

Board members, however, have expressed reservations about some of the wording in the ordinance. King said the regulations based on the ordinance should clearly indicate its scope, define compliance and allow granting of permits for measures that improve air quality.

Also yesterday, the board was given a report on a survey of school districts regarding buses and policies restricting the amount of time buses can idle in the vicinity of children. Studies suggest that pollution from diesel engine exhaust can cause airway irritation, cough and chronic respiratory problems.

According to Tom Lattner, an engineer in the Air Quality program, all the districts completed the survey. Only a quarter of them own their buses and the remainder lease them. Three-quarters of the almost 2,700 buses in the county are diesel-fueled.

"It's disappointing that only four have idling policies," and only two have them written down, Cole said. Policies were considered in 12 districts and 21 said they would prefer a county regulation.

A draft regulation will be prepared for the board's consideration at its January meeting.

Also yesterday, department officials told board members of efforts to improve responses to residents' air quality complaints, such as bad odors. Previously, an inspector has been available only during regular weekday business hours.

Now, "we have an inspector in the field from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays and for an 8-hour shift on Saturdays," Cole said.

"That's definitely a big improvement," Arnowitt said, noting that members of Clean Water Action have complained for years about the lack of inspector availability during the evenings and weekends.

The board also heard about the installation in the next week or two of several waterless urinals in the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, which aims to be an energy- and water-efficient "green" building.

"This is only on a trial basis, for maybe six months," Cole said. "If they work satisfactorily, we may amend the [plumbing] code to allow wider use of this new technology."


Anita Srikameswaran can be reached at anitas@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3858.

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