Ben Avon balks at anti-pollution resolution


Ben Avon Council member Michael Bett brought a resolution before council at Tuesday's meeting that would have the borough urge the Allegheny County Health Department to enforce its air pollution regulations for companies on Neville Island. Several residents were also on hand to express their opinions.

To emphasize his position, Bett cited figures stating that Allegheny County's cancer risk from air toxics ranks in the top 2 percent in the country, and that Pittsburgh ranks in the top 10 percent of dirtiest monitored urban areas for average annual particle pollution. He said council president Earl Bohn has mentioned how many people he knows who have MS.
"Many of my fellow council members and the mayor were elected on a platform of providing strong public safety," he concluded. "We have an opportunity to demonstrate support for strong public safety tonight."

Ted Popovich of Virginia Avenue, co-founder of Allegheny County Clear Air Now (ACCAN), mentioned the violations by the industrial plants on Neville Island -- with DTE Energy's Shenango coke plant being a particular target -- and said ACCAN is concerned about the health of both residents and workers. "We want your help to be with us to support the community," he told council.

Angelo Trananto of Ross is a member of ACCAN, and he said the percentage of asthma in the Northgate School District is twice that of other districts. He said the companies claim they are spending money on improvements, but it doesn't translate -- pointing out that 111 violations were cited in the first quarter of 2015, and the number increased to 212 in the second quarter. "We are hoping all municipalities will support us in (having the ACHD) more aggressively monitor the companies."

Bohn countered their arguments, first by correcting Bett's comment regarding MS, saying that he has helped to raise close to $100,000 for MS, but has never heard anything that suggested that pollution from Shenango contributes to that disease. He also said he talked with a nurse in the Northgate School District about the asthma problem and she said the leading cause of asthma is obesity, followed by cigarette smoke, including second-hand smoke.

He pointed out, too, that in China, "where they live the way we used to, with black skies," the rate of childhood asthma is far below ours. "There is a lot of contradictory information out there."

Bohn is on the Shenango Community Advisory Panel, and he said Shenango was family-owned before 2008, but since DTE Energy bought it, it has spent $60 million in capital improvements. Before 2008, periods of excessive emissions could last for hours, but now they are as short as seconds, or a minute, he said. "Things have improved greatly," he said, "air emissions have declined dramatically."

Bett said he wishes it was true, "but it's not." He said DTE has owned Shenango for seven years, but the problem is still bad, and added that while they said $60 million had been allocated for clean-up, that amount has not been spent.

Bett's resolution passed by a vote of 3-2, with Bohn and Julian Wynnyckyj dissenting. Philip Brind'Amour and Michael Wrbas were absent.

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