When Bill Bartlett moved to Bellevue about four years ago, he said he was alarmed by a report that shows the Northgate School District, which serves Avalon and Bellevue, has the highest rate of students with asthma—37.6 percent—among Western Pennsylvania’s school districts.
“I want to keep my son safe,” said Bartlett, the father of a 7-year-old boy and a member of the Neville Island Good Neighbor Committee.
Bartlett was one of about a dozen concerned citizens who hand-delivered a letter addressing air-quality issues to the Shenango Inc. plant in Neville Township. Bartlett carried the letter, which and several questions from the group about the number of air pollution violations Shenango has racked up the past year.
In August, the Allegheny County Health Department issued 114 notices of air-quality violations to the Neville Island coke plant, resulting Shenango has appealed the fines, and residents said they want to know why.
The group parked at the security station outside the plant and walked together to the front gates with the letter and a request to speak in person with plant Manager Steve Guzy.
“We’d like to deliver this to him personally,” Bartlett told the security guard, who agreed to make a phone call.
As the group waited, Julie St. John, a community organizer with Clean Water Action said she was pleased with the effort and representation from concerned residents of various communities in Allegheny County. Clean Water Action organized Wednesday's gathering.
“Now they’ll get to put some faces to the people who are breathing the emissions they’re pumping out,” St. John said.
One of those faces belongs to Ted Glatz. The Avalon resident said his son developed asthma to the point the 16-year-old has to use an inhaler. His nephew has asthma, too.
"Sometimes we need to stand up collectively and let our voice be heard that we don't need to take this," Glatz added.
About a half-hour after the arrival, Guzy walked out to the plant entrance to address the group. Bartlett handed over the letter and told Guzy the citizens wish to have a public meeting with Shenango.
“We are working with the town [on air-quality issues], and we are willing to meet with you guys,” Guzy said.
“What kind of coffee would you like?” asked Ted Popovich of Ben Avon, to which Guzy responded "Decaf."
Popovich said doctors diagnosed him with late-onset allergies and a mild form of asthma after he moved to the area five years ago. He was there a couple of years ago when Clean Water Action representatives met with Shenango company leaders after new plant managers took over. At that time, he said he was cautiously optimistic, but those feelings have waned since then due to the ongoing violations found at the plant.
“For me it’s a personal issue,” said Popovich, who documents the plant's emissions with photographs. “I live and breathe it.”
St. John said an email posing a similar request for a meeting was sent to the company in early November. DTE Energy Resources, the company that owns and operates the Shenango facility, declined the first request, she said.
“We came here today to ask again,” St. John said.
A date for the meeting has not been set. Bartlett said afterward that he respected Guzy’s decision to come down and face the group.
“I look forward to the public meeting,” Bartlett said.