New Toxic Ten Polluters Drive Cancer, Asthma Risks

Media Contacts
Zachary Barber

PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center

Pittsburgh, PA– PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center’s newly updated interactive website identifies the Toxic Ten, the industrial facilities releasing the most hazardous toxins into the air. These facilities are responsible for a significant portion of air pollution problems in the region by releasing chemicals known to cause cancer, respiratory problems, neurological disease, and reproductive problems. The Pittsburgh region ranks in the top 2% for cancer caused from such facilities’ pollution in the nation.

“We talk about Pittsburgh as a ‘most livable city,’ but our air is killing us. This report shows that local residents are breathing cancer-causing and asthma inducing pollution on a daily basis,” said PennEnvironment’s Zachary Barber. “If our elected officials, including County Executive Fitzgerald, want to attract new residents and new businesses, they must get serious about making our air breathable every day of the week.”

The updated website allows citizens to find out how close they live to these significant pollution sources.  The data was compiled by combining industry-reported data from the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) on the amount and type of emissions from facilities in Allegheny County in 2016.  That data was multiplied by a “toxicity” score from the EPA-based Risk-Screening Environmental Indicators (RSEI) using the most recent data (2017). This allowed the organization to compare facilities that emit different types of pollution by creating a toxicity-weighted pounds for each facility.

“The risk of developing and having flares of asthma, COPD, and other respiratory conditions is higher here than in other parts of the state and the country,” said Dr. Ned Ketyer, a pediatrician with the AAP Council of Health, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and the SWPA Environmental Health Project. “In some parts of Allegheny County, the risk of schoolchildren developing asthma — and having flares of their disease where they miss school, take more medicines, and visit the doctor or hospital — is nearly three times the national risk”

Key findings of the report include:

  • Cheswick Power Plant, located in Springdale, ranks #1 most toxic polluter in Allegheny County, in part because it emitted more than 200 pounds of chromium in 2016. Hexavalent chromium is one of the most dangerous toxins noted in the report and is strongly linked to cancers and asthma.

  • ATI Flat Rolled Products, a stainless steel plant operating in Brackenridge, ranks #2. Despite being in operation for almost 20 years, this facility has never been properly permitted.

  • Three facilities are located within the city of Pittsburgh, putting their toxic pollution in some of our most densely populated neighborhoods. Pressure Chemical Company, and McConway and Torley are both located in Lawrenceville are the #9 and #10 most toxic. Valspar Coatings, located on the North Side, is #5. Over 100,000 live within three miles of each facility

“We’ve seen modest improvement since we first did this report in 2015 year, but it’s clear we still have a long way to go,” said Barber. “Just last year, PennEnvironment RPC found that soot pollution made it unsafe to breathe 1 out of every 2 days. Pittsburghers have a right to clean, fresh air 365 days a year, and regulators need to take the necessary steps to make this a reality. Ratcheting down the pollution from the Toxic Ten would be a great place to start, since these are the facilities that are putting our health and our communities at risk.”

Local environmental, public health and community organizations see the report as a key piece in the mounting evidence for Allegheny County Health Department’s need to take stronger action to reduce hazardous pollution. The report includes policy recommendations such as higher fines for violations, more stringent guidelines for permitting, and increased monitoring of the facilities.

Organizers noted that the Health Department’s new enforcement policy, which was announced last month, represents a step in the right direction. The policy is designed to levy stricter penalties on polluters who break the law. “With air pollution posing such risk to residents’ health, we need to do everything we can to get rid of cancer-causing pollution, whether that pollution is there legally or illegally. If properly utilized, this new policy would allow us to crack down on illegal pollution, but in order for residents to get the full benefit, it needs to be paired with stricter pollution limits in the first place,” said Barber.

“Polluter profits have taken precedence over public health for too long. Through lax permitting, Allegheny County Health Department has allowed the Toxic Ten to poison families across the region,” said Barber. “Our elected officials need to stop passing the buck and develop a plan that will ensure every breath of air in the region is ‘livable.’That starts with cracking down on the Toxic Ten.”


Facility Name


Cheswick Power Plant


ATI Flat Rolled Products


USS-Clairton Plant


ATI Powder Metals


Valspar Coatings


Universal Stainless and Alloy Products


BPI Inc. – McKees Rocks PA Plant


Harsco Metals


Pressure Chemical Company


McConway & Torley Foundry