A Letter to the Allegheny County Health Department

To the Allegheny County Health Department and Director Karen Hacker,

I’ve lived in the Pittsburgh area all of my life and have seen, first-hand, the ill affects of Pittsburgh’s inordinately high rates of heart disease, lung cancer, asthma, and other respiratory ailments. As my wife and I begin to raise our own family in the area, our #1 concern is the poor air quality in Pittsburgh and the inaction by civic institutions like ACHD to enact substantive change.

We know that our air quality is some of the worst in the nation. We know that it directly and indirectly harms thousands and thousands of people in irreparable and costly ways. Our consideration of these facts causes us to frequently consider leaving the Pittsburgh area solely due to its poor air quality. Many of our friends and other young families share our concerns and urgently call for improvements. To put it bluntly, our air quality is a disgrace and a serious blocker to the growth and flourishing of our region.

To this end, I request two things:

1. That the ACHD reconsider its lenient expansion of pollution allowances in the operating permits for McConway & Torley, Neville Chemical, and TMI International at the U.S. Steel plant and all other operating permits in the county. These allowances should be reduced, not expanded. Additionally, fines to cover the external costs of their pollution should be dramatically increased to pay for the subsequent social, ecological and health-related costs of the particulates and VOCs released into our atmosphere.

2. That the ACHD publish a public explanation of their current approach towards operating permits for area polluters. Recognizing my ignorance in this area, it’s possible that the ACHD is doing their due diligence in protecting and supporting our ecology, my two-year old son, and the millions of residents for whom it is responsible. I don’t know very much about appropriate permitting, federal standards, or the limitations of the ACHD to regulate or enforce said permits. Please improve your transparency around these issues and educate us further so that we can critique or support your work accurately.

In recognition of your difficult but essential work,

Tim, Rachel, and Robin Cook