Prove your humanity

The Allegheny County Health Department will conduct air monitoring near a Swissvale glass factory for cancer causing heavy metals over the next year. 

The county has placed an air monitor near Kopp Glass, which makes high-end glass for aviation, traffic lights and industry. 

The study comes as the department is stepping up regulations on the facility. 

In June, the county determined the facility was subject to greater regulations for toxic air emissions. The county based its decision on a similar determination the EPA made about a glassmaker in West Virginia. 

Jim Kelly, deputy director for environmental health at the Allegheny County Health Department said these regulations typically call for companies to install pollution-capturing equipment. 

“If you are subject to this then you have to do certain controls to reduce your toxic emissions. Toxic emissions from Kopp glass are metals, heavy metals,” Kelly said.

A previous EPA study of the Kopp plant and plants in West Virginia and Indiana found their emissions did not exceed EPA thresholds for cancer-causing pollutants. But the county has decided to do its own monitoring to “further study the health risk to the public” posed by the plant, the county said in a statement.

Kelly said these specialty glassmakers use heavy metals like arsenic, cadmium, and antimony to make glass for aviation, traffic signals, and commercial lighting.  The glass is made in uncovered “pots” that can release toxic air emissions.

“These different heavy metals, which are toxic, are also responsible for different colors in the glass,” Kelly said.

The company, which has 30 days to appeal the county’s decision, says it’s voluntarily putting in more emissions controls.

“Kopp has proactively and voluntarily taken actions to reduce emissions of metal hazardous air pollutants from its operations,”  said Sharayah Follett, the company’s director of operations, in an email. Follett said these actions include new control and monitoring processes, reformulating certain types of glass. She said the company notified the health department of these actions “and will continue to cooperate in the study of ambient air data collected near our facility.”

Regulatory interest in specialty glassmakers grew after a 2015 U.S. Forest Service study, which found that moss in trees surrounding a glass plant in Oregon had high levels of metals. A follow-up study by the state of Oregon found high levels of cadmium and arsenic near several glass plants.

Exposure to cadmium and arsenic have been linked to cancer and other diseases, according to the health department.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.