It must have been winter; down on lower Ransome and Vine kids were out playing in the snow, and coming back into the house with dark, gritty dirt on snowsuits, mittens and faces. Yuck!
“We have black snow!” the caller told me. He was a dad.
I worked for the Times Herald, which took a keen interest in its Pennsylvania territories in those days. It was the caller’s idea that I should write about this and embarrass Pittsburgh Corning into doing something about it. There was no doubt that this fallout was from PC’s belching smokestacks. The company was still producing foam glass in Plant Two back then, as well as large quantities of glass blocks in Plant 1.
In those days I was able to talk to the president of PC. I am trying to remember—was it John Baldwin then? Chuck Francik?
Sure, I could put a big story in the TH. Sure, my own walk through that neighborhood and my photos confirmed that the fallout was pretty heavy right there. But my instinct was to get the problem solved, maybe through plain old reasoning together, an appeal to the basic decency of the people in charge. Then it would be a problem-solved story.
I called the PC president, and he was concerned. He had me talk to two other people “down there,” and they told me they would look into it—give them a couple of days.
Yes, I would have done a story on the situation pretty soon, if no solution had been forthcoming. But I didn’t have to, because within days there were some non-local brass up here, probably flown up in the plane they used to land on the flats. They were unannounced, I believe. They discovered that there had been attempts to save on the filters, and that the hoods on stacks were pointing downward and not allowing the plumes to rise and send the darkish particulates farther away, and emissions control was not being handled as per official company policy or government regulations.
That had to stop! And it did. Snow was white enough to make neighborhood residents less annoyed.
Pittsburgh Corning’s local presence was that of a responsible part of the community.
Yes, there had been, even by then, indications of a “Do you want jobs or a clean environment?” or “You can’t have industry and jobs without some accidents, some mess” attitude. But the company was also known for its generosity, its willingness to contribute to community causes, its furnishing of quantities of product for such projects as the hospital and the new schools.
I was reminded of that by a recent letter from a concerned community resident who was hoping for some “investigative” reporting on a concern of that general type.
She asks whether “it would be possible to find out why this local plant (Saint-Gobain or whatever it it’s now called) can continue to spew out that horrible smoke from their stacks on a daily basis?
“They more frequently do it at night when they apparently think it is less noticed. It’s so bad where I live that I actually gag on that smoke. And my house on the outside is blackened with the fall-out.”
I remember the late former teacher Raymond I. Poole sitting in my dining room and talking about how Pierce Glass would “blow their checker chambers” at night so the plume of caustic flakes would not be seen. Also, the vehicles driven by the “brass” would not be parked near the plant, at night, to receive the fallout, which could damage paint.
Some employees confirmed this practice, over the years. Some talked of the flawed or crippled efforts to control the air quality inside the container plant in its various incarnations. But it seemed to be Pittsburgh Corning that was discussed so much, and written about in the press.
The local person wanting these issues sorted out wonders whether some plants were “grandfathered” or allowed to flout laws about air pollution. What can DEP do? How about the Assemblyman? “Is it not a health issue?”
Good questions, but I doubt that there is any formal grandfathering involved.
In the old days I’d have called someone local at that plant and been given some sort of response. These days questions of almost every kind are referred to the public information person in Muncie, Indiana.
But there are some regulatory agencies that may have some answers. The reader mentioned the DEP.
What do other residents experience, as to pollution they attribute to local industry? I know of some who have noticed, as I have, that some of our windows are “etched” or cloudy due to our “air chemistry.” Is there discoloration or deterioration of siding, trim, fencing, glazing?
The intermittent high sulfur content of the air here left with foam glass production, as did a number of jobs. I’d rather deal with the rapid tarnishing of my silver, if we had Plant Two back, up and running, and three shift changes a day up and down Benton Avenue. But that does not mean that we should tolerate industrial pollution, does it?
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