As seen from Route 65 on April 14th, this Neville Island industrial fire has prompted air quality advocates to call for stricter penalties for pollution offenses.
By Jamie Wiggan
Concerned about the health impacts of a recent industrial fire, 11 Neville-area residents gave statements to the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) board on May 5 calling for stricter oversight and penalties for the offending company.
In letters submitted ahead of the meeting, those affected said the fire that blazed for several hours during the afternoon of April 14 is just the latest in an ongoing series of pollution offenses by scrap metal company Metalico Inc.
“A shocking — but predictable — event occurred on April 14, when a fire erupted at Metalico, burning plastic, tires and other materials for more than six hours,” wrote Karen Grzywinski of Ohio Township. “It was the culmination of unconscionable conduct by Metalico and inaction by ACHD.”
Others blamed the Health Department for not doing more to alert residents to the short-term health threat posed by the fire.
“I am outraged and disturbed by the fact that your department did nothing to protect or warn my community about what we were breathing in, how toxic it was and what we should do,” wrote Sonja Kowal of Emsworth.
Some described the onset of symptoms brought on by the fire.
“By [6.30 p.m.] my son and I had headaches and although I did not know what was causing the stench, I knew it was not good for us to be breathing, so we left our neighborhood to eat dinner,” wrote Angela Garcia, also of Emsworth.
The 11 petitioners are part of a local advocacy group — Allegheny County Clean Air Now (ACCAN) — that has been attempting to raise the profile of air quality issues in the Neville Island area for several years. The Metalico plant, operated by Chinese-owned Ye Chiu Metal Recycling, has been a focal point of the group’s protests, and they have set up cameras and air quality monitors beside the facility.
According to ACCAN Secretary Angelo Taranto, the group has documented 270 instances of “noise, explosions and bad smell events” at the site since August 2018.
The group contacted the health department separately and collectively, alerting the health department to the fire and requesting intervention.
Patrick Dowd, ACHD’s chief operating officer, wrote a response to the group prior to the meeting saying information about the incident is still being gathered before any measures may be taken.
Dowd said the county health department was not prompted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to intervene during the fire, adding that the presence of smoke is an expected outcome in all fire scenarios.
Health department officials did not respond to the comments during the meeting.
— Oliver Morrison of Public Source contributed to this report.