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If steel production took a plunge at the foundry, it's doubtful that Lawrenceville would follow the trajectory of places like Homestead. While some workers there might be relying on jobs, the local economy is not relying on the foundry. Just in the past two years, 36 new businesses have opened. The highest list price for a residential property on the market right now is $748,000. The crime rate has decreased significantly over the past decade, according to Lawrenceville United.
"The challenge is figuring out if those things can co-exist and under what conditions," Galluzzo says. "It's really the charge of the ACHD to default to protecting community health."
Joel Haight, director of the University of Pittsburgh's Safety Engineering program, says there are several things the health department needs to consider. One is whether the filters on the foundry's furnaces are the right size and maintained properly.
"One of the things with heavy metals is that when you melt them, they actually will evaporate, but they condense really quickly to a very, very small particulate size," Haight says. Small particles can be more dangerous because they can be inhaled deeply into the lungs. "There are a lot of questions that would need to be answered before major changes are made. I think the health department should be responsible enough to ask the correct questions."
Could M&T maintain current production levels but simply install better emission controls?
"Certainly the technology exists," says Anthony Deardo of Pitt's Mechanical Engineering & Materials Science department. "It's a pretty small operation. Usually we're talking about millions of tons per year."
M&T has had residential neighbors since its inception. If air quality has been in the public's consciousness since the 1970s, and permits for minor sources were due in the 1990s, why target the foundry now?
"Permitted facilities in Allegheny County [are] competing for attention [and] ... the ones classified as major sources tend to get more attention," said Joe Osbourne, legal director for GASP. "Ideally, we or ACHD would have become aware of the issue sooner, but hindsight is 20/20."
Asked why the ACHD didn't address M&T's missing permit sooner, Sandra Etzel, chief engineer at the ACHD, said that perhaps the department was short-staffed. Seven people in the health department's air-quality program are in charge of permitting 410 facilities in the county. Of those, 31 are classified as major sources.
Meanwhile, among Lawrenceville residents who've spoken publicly about the issue, several say they don't want the foundry to shut down. They just want to know they are safe.
M&T's closure "is certainly not my wish," Gaser says. "But we do expect clean air to breathe."
GASP agrees. "This isn't an issue of jobs versus the environment or old Pittsburgh versus new Pittsburgh," Osbourne says. "Whether this facility was located in trendy Lawrenceville or somewhere not so trendy, GASP's concerns would be the same."
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this report appeared on the website and in print. The updated version includes a response from the EPA.