This Letter to the Editor appeared in the July 16, 2019 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Upon assuming leadership of PennFuture in October 2017, I attended an Allegheny County Board of Health meeting because I wanted to understand where the board, health director Karen Hacker and her team stood on issues of air quality and chronic pollution at the Clairton Coke Works.
That conversation was the first of several between the county health department and local environmental groups. Around that time, the health department began taking seriously its obligation to hold U.S. Steel accountable for issues in the Mon Valley.
First came an enforcement order against U.S. Steel in June 2018, the first of several that have added up to more than $2.3 million in penalties. Later, the health department joined a federal lawsuit brought by environmental organizations in response to air quality violations at the Clairton Coke Works.
On the occasion of Dr. Hacker’s departure from the department, it’s important to note that progress has been made under her leadership.
Despite that, the air quality problems that we face in this region are enormous and won’t be solved overnight. It took much citizen pressure to get this far and more work remains to be done. U.S. Steel continues to be a serial polluter, and the health of residents in the Mon Valley continues to suffer.
It is critical that the next leader of the health department raises the bar higher and holds polluters accountable, while lending an ear to groups that advocate on behalf of residents and the environment. Any backsliding from the health department under new leadership must be vociferously opposed by all who crave and deserve cleaner air.
President and CEO, PennFuture