EPA to Follow Up Air Monitoring at South Allegheny

School toxin levels cause for concern

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
11 November 2011

By Don Hopey

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will conduct at least another six months of air pollution monitoring outside the South Allegheny Middle/High School in Liberty to determine if long-term exposure to hazardous air pollutants emitted by the U.S. Steel Corp.'s Clairton Coke Works pose a health hazard.

As part of EPA's Schools Air Toxics Monitoring initiative, the agency tested air outside 63 schools in 22 states in an effort to determine if long-term exposure to air toxics poses health concerns for school children, teachers and staff. The EPA Thursday requested follow-up monitoring at South Allegheny and 14 other schools.

"South Allegheny may potentially be of concern," said Bonnie Smith, an EPA spokeswoman. "That's why we've asked for more monitoring to get additional information to better characterize the effects of long-term exposure."

Ms. Smith said the Allegheny County Health Department has been asked to perform the monitoring, which will target a host of hazardous air pollutants associated with coke oven emissions, including benzene, arsenic, soot, volatile organic compounds, benzo(a)pyrene and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. Some of those air toxics are known carcinogens.

The EPA also announced Thursday that monitoring of air pollutants at Sto-Rox Elementary and Middle schools in McKees Rocks and Clairton Educational Center in Clairton has not found toxics at levels that pose significant health concerns. Monitoring at those schools has been discontinued.

The health department recommended the monitoring of the Sto-Rox school sites because they are located near the Shenango Coke Works and two chemical manufacturing plants on Neville Island that emit air toxics, the EPA said.

The EPA said emissions from coke ovens were detected in the air near both the Clairton Educational Center and South Allegheny Middle/High School, but the level of the emissions at Clairton was "below levels of significant concern."

Laura Thomson, a spokeswoman for the South Allegheny School District, said the findings of EPA's monitoring work were "a concern" for the children and for those staff who both work and live in the community. The report reinforces the need for the Heinz Endowments-initiated "Breathe Project," which seeks improvements in local and regional air quality.

Final EPA reports on the monitoring done at Sto-Rox, Clairton and South Allegheny schools are available at http://www.epa.gov/schoolair/schools.html.

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.