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May 25, 2006

Bellefield Boiler Plant fined for pollution

The Allegheny County Health Department last month reached a consent agreement to settle air pollution violations at the Bellefield Boiler Plant.

Pitt is a member of the nonprofit consortium that owns and operates the plant. Under the agreement, the consortium will pay a $175,000 fine and will use a cleaner fuel mixture in its No. 1 boiler, which exceeded county air pollution limits for particulates and sulfur dioxide emissions during a stack emissions test in December 2004.

The owner-users group is made up of Pitt, UPMC, Carnegie Mellon University, the Carnegie Museum, Carnegie Library, Children’s Hospital, the City of Pittsburgh and the city school district. The plant provides steam heat to the universities, hospitals, library, museum, the Pittsburgh Board of Education headquarters and Phipps Conservatory.

Pitt and UPMC combined use about 78 percent of the plant’s capacity, Chuck Turbanic of Facilities Management said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and federal Environmental Protection Agency delegate responsibility for air pollution control in Allegheny County to the county health department. County air pollution control regulations require stack tests at the plant every two years. Another is due later this year.

During the December 2004 stack test, the boiler was using a mixture of 70 percent coal/30 percent natural gas. The test found particulate levels of 0.23 pounds per million BTUs of heat generated, 5 percent higher than the 0.22 limit. Sulfur dioxide levels were 35-40 percent above the 0.89 pounds per million BTUs limit, said health department spokesman Guillermo Cole.

A review of operating records showed that the boiler was fired routinely between October 2003 and January 2005 using an average of only 19 percent natural gas — significantly less natural gas than was used during the stack test, Cole said. “Knowing that, we could come to the conclusion that this boiler was not in compliance the majority of the time.” That factored into the penalty calculation that was part of this agreement, he said.

The No. 1 boiler, installed in 1956, has no emission controls, but will receive them to meet federal regulations that take effect in 2007. In the meantime, the agreement requires that the boiler be fueled with a cleaner mix of at least 50 percent natural gas to keep it in compliance with county air pollution standards. Cole said that stipulation went into effect last November and cut emissions some 35 percent this winter.

The Bellefield plant is among approximately 170 entities listed by the health department as sources of air pollution in Allegheny County. A 2004 emissions inventory — the most recent available — showed that the Bellefield plant’s particulate emissions totaled 2.1 percent of the county’s total. In comparison, the county’s largest source of particulate pollution is the US Steel Clairton Coke Works, which accounts for 41 percent of the total.

Similarly, the Bellefield plant’s sulfur dioxide emissions in 2004 were 1.6 percent of the county’s total. In comparison, Orion Power Midwest’s coal-fired Cheswick power station was the largest source of sulfur dioxide, with 88 percent of the county’s total.

The Bellefield plant was fined $675 for exceeding sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emission limits from boiler No. 2 in 2003, Cole said. That boiler was shut down permanently after failing the test, he said.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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