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Group puts spotlight on so-called ‘toxic 10’ polluters
In a photo titled “Edgar Thomson Looms,” U.S. Steel’s plant in Braddock and North Braddock is visible above rooftops of nearby houses. (Photo by Macwagen/Strongbox Magazine. Licensed under Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Lisa Graves-Marcucci calls it a “pollution parfait,” and she says it’s just as unappetizing as it sounds.
That’s how the lifelong Mon Valley resident describes the sky some mornings in Jefferson Hills.
“When I would drive over to take (my kids) to the elementary school, which sits right on the hilltop overlooking the Clairton Coke Works, certain summer mornings, you could see this ‘pollution parfait,’” says Graves-Marcucci, who serves as Pennsylvania community outreach coordinator for the non-profit Environmental Integrity Project. “There would be like, lines of different colors of pollution in the sky.”
Graves-Marcucci was one of the people who participated last week in a county-wide campaign for cleaner air.
With in-person gathering still limited, Pittsburgh- and Philadelphia-based group PennEnvironment organized the week-long campaign with daily activities meant to spur county officials to further action.
Residents made calls and sent emails to Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, participated in a social media “tweetstorm” and attended an online rally on Friday.
The event was specifically designed to call attention to what PennEnvironment refers to as the “Toxic Ten” — the 10 industrial facilities that it says are responsible for the most air pollution in Allegheny County.
Pollution of the same types emitted by those facilities has been linked to cancer, birth defects, reproductive problems, heart disease and other ailments, according to PennEnvironment.
Three of the facilities — U.S. Steel’s Clairton and Edgar Thomson plants and TMS International’s processing division at the ET plant — are in the Mon-Yough area.
“I’ve always been involved in the welfare of our air and our environment,” says Martha Evans of Elizabeth Twp. “I’ve been going to the hearings they have at the county Health Department about our air quality.”
Evans says she emailed and called Fitzgerald during the week. “It’s time to clean up Pittsburgh,” she says.
Last year, the American Lung Association released its 20th annual “air quality report card,” grading regions on ozone, smog and small-particulate pollution.
Outside of California, Allegheny County, Pa., was the only county that received failing grades on all three, the Lung Association said.
“For far too long, the Pittsburgh region’s worst-of-the-worst polluters have been given carte blanche to darken our skies with haze and put our health at risk,” says Zachary Barber, clean air advocate at PennEnvironment. “Toxic Ten Week is a concerted online campaign to convince local leaders that it is not acceptable to let the dirtiest facilities pollute this great city.”
In a release, PennEnvironment says it is committed to giving Pittsburgh-area residents “the information and online tools they need to remain engaged civically while at home during the pandemic.”
Evans says the right to clean air and water is enshrined in Pennsylvania’s constitution. “Article 1, Section 27,” she says. “It’s your future, it’s your air, it’s your water, it’s your right.”
Graves-Marcucci says a staff member in Fitzgerald’s office was attentive when she called last week.
“I said, ‘Are you getting a number of calls?’ She said, ‘Yes, I’ll just take your name and address.’ I said ‘no no no, can I have two minutes of your time?’
“I told her, I’ve lived here my whole life, when can we expect change?” Graves-Marcucci says. “And by the end of the conversation, she said back to me, ‘let me get this straight so I can give this to the county executive, you want stricter permits, you want stiffer fines for the toxic 10,’ and I was like, ‘yeah, that’s it in a nutshell.’”
But Evans and Graves-Marcucci says they have not heard back from the county executive’s office.
Kevin Kino is a freelance writer and filmmaker based in Pittsburgh. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published September 23, 2020.