Statement: County Executive Denies Leadership on Air Quality

Toxic Neighbor Campaign aims to mobilize new activists, hold big polluters accountable

Oct. 10, 2017 (PITTSBURGH, Pa.) – Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s office last week sent a response to citizens taking action through PennFuture’s Toxic Neighbor campaign, shifting blame by buck-passing to the Allegheny County Health Department. 

An email from Amie Downs, Allegheny County Communications Director, which was sent to every person who took action through PennFuture’s Toxic Neighbor campaign by sending a letter to Fitzgerald about air pollution violations committed by U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, states:

“As you may be aware, this isn’t something that is under the jurisdiction of the County Executive, but instead is a role of the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD).  ACHD oversees air quality in Allegheny County as an agent of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). ACHD is dedicated to improving air quality throughout the county, and is committed to holding polluters accountable for air quality violations.”

Clairton Coke Works has committed more than 6,700 air pollution violations over a recent three-and-a-half year period. The Allegheny County Health Department, which is part of Fitzgerald’s administrative responsibilities, has not adequately penalized this repeat offender. Fitzgerald’s administration responded to these infractions with paltry fines and settlements that do nothing to stop the violations. 

Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department, reports directly to Fitzgerald. 

“By suggesting that the Allegheny Health Department is not under his jurisdiction, Fitzgerald is demonstrating a lack of leadership on air quality, and that is having a devastating effect on public health, particularly among vulnerable children and the elderly,” said PennFuture President and CEO Larry J. Schweiger. “Who will take responsibility and have the courage to hold Clairton Coke Works accountable for continuing to sicken 37,000 people in the immediate area, while negatively impacting the air quality throughout the entire county? Fitzgerald is charged with leading the county health services and he must act.”

Matt Mehalik, executive director of the Air Quality Collaborative, said, “The facts are clear: we have some of the worst national statistics for air quality.  Allegheny County ranks third out of all counties nationwide for cancer risk due to point source pollution, such as the Clairton Coke Works.  We need our region’s leadership to up its game to fix this problem, rather than to obscure, duck, and play Keystone Cops with the issue.”

The Toxic Neighbor Campaign is a PennFuture citizen engagement effort that initially kicked off Oct. 4 and runs through the end of November in both the North Hills and the East End. 

For more information, please visit www.toxicneighborpgh.org and www.toxicneighbor.org.

PennFuture is leading the transition to a clean energy economy in Pennsylvania and beyond. We are protecting our air, water and land, and empowering citizens to build sustainable communities for future generations. For more information, visit www.pennfuture.org.

Contact: Stephanie Rex         

Director of Communications