A decade of cleaner air ended in controversy and questions about Allegheny County’s future

At the start of a new decade, the challenges of local air pollution enforcement are changing. It’s critical for regulators to respond to unexpected events as effectively as ongoing pollution. And climate change is making their job harder. 

The air quality in the next decade will also be shaped by a regional economic debate about the expansion of the petrochemical industry and fracking, which could increase pollution in Allegheny County.

But some of the biggest changes may not be up to regulators: U.S. Steel recently put one of its coke oven batteries on “hot idle” for economic reasons, which reduces pollution, and has promised to build cleaner technology to reduce emissions even more. And whoever is running the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] could limit or enhance the county’s ability to take action in the future.

Oliver Morrison talks to the Army Corps of Engineers about one of their lock and dam projects for a story about the Ohio river. (Photo by Ryan Loew/PublicSource)

Inside our Newsroom: What it takes to report on health and environment in Allegheny County

A reader emailed me at the end of October asking if I knew what had happened to the water supply in Neville Township. I didn’t. Some reader tips don’t go anywhere but some of my best stories start with readers. So I emailed the Department of Environmental Protection’s regional information officer to see what she knew about why Neville residents were told not to consume the water for days. I received a quick response: The state agency had to do emergency testing for PFAS chemicals because a firefighting foam containing the toxics had discharged into the drinking water source.