Old diesel equipment still spewing soot into Pittsburgh's air

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BakerySquare_sign_2.jpg

BAKERY SQUARE IN EAST LIBERTY

 

by Emily DeMarco

(PublicSource)–Morry Feldman downs two horse pills with breakfast. Then, he uses four different sprays. Two puffs into the mouth. Two into the nose. Repeat at dinner.

Feldman, 59, has severe asthma and allergies. And Pittsburgh is among the worst places he could live or work because of the region’s poor air quality.

“If I miss a dose, I start to get sick,” said Feldman, a senior account executive at WQED Multimedia.

Feldman is one of nearly 97,000 adults in Allegheny County with asthma.

The county received F’s in the American Lung Association’s State of the Air 2012 study.

Among the reasons cited by experts for the region’s poor air quality: diesel fumes.

The Pittsburgh City Council passed a local law in 2011 requiring construction companies to retrofit equipment that runs on diesel fuel in order to reduce emissions. But, to date, no dozers, diggers or dump trucks have had to comply.

Called the Clean Air Act of 2010, the local law focused on construction sites that received public dollars. If the development’s budget was larger than $2.5 million and it received at least $250,000 in public subsidies, it  would have to retrofit a percentage of its diesel equipment.

Regulations for the ordinance haven’t been finalized, making it unenforceable.

Supporters of the ordinance have cried foul.

“If we truly want to be the most livable city, we have to contend with our air pollution,” said Rachel Filippini, the executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, known as GASP.  “And one way to do that is to clean up construction vehicles.”

GASP was part of a coalition of health, environmental, faith, industry, and labor organizations that helped to draft the legislation.

Small, but deadly

The Environmental Protection Agency has set standards for new diesel engines, but it’s the old engines that produce what’s known as ‘dirty diesel’ fumes. A typical diesel engine has a life span of 20 to 30 years.

It is widely accepted that dirty diesel exhaust contains tiny particles of soot, also known as black carbon. And that the smallest of these particles can go straight into the bloodstream and are linked to cancer, asthma and stroke.

In addition, the diesel exhaust contains nitrogen oxides, which, when released into the atmosphere on hot days, create ozone, a powerful irritant that can cause chemical burns in the lungs.

Children, the elderly, and people with chronic lung and heart conditions are among the most vulnerable to dirty diesel’s impact. And the workers who operate diesel equipment are the first to breathe the harmful emissions.

The city council passed the local legislation requiring developers to curb diesel emissions, in part, because Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods are densely packed, with schools and playgrounds often near construction sites.

If the legislation had been in effect, one construction site that would need to comply would be Bakery Square 2.0, a development on Penn Ave. that broke ground in January 2013. The $100-million project is the sister site to Bakery Square 1.0, home to Google’s Pittsburgh offices, high-end shops and a hotel.

With the help of Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and the Urban Redevelopment Authority, according to a press release from the mayor’s office, the development was awarded about $2 million in federal funds. The development was recently awarded $4 million from the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett.

Bakery Square 2.0 borders The Ellis School, a private, all-girls academy, and Mellon Park.

The girls at the Ellis School who have asthma could be directly affected by the diesel emissions while Bakery Square 2.0 construction is underway, said Dr. Fernando Holguin, the assistant director at the University of Pittsburgh’s Asthma Institute.

“Maybe some children will wheeze a little more…and some kids may end up in hospital,” Dr. Holguin said.

Representatives from the project’s development company, Walnut Capital, did not return phone calls or emails requesting comment. A representative from The Ellis School said she didn’t know enough about the ordinance to comment.

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