Last week’s Pittsburgh news, today #25: toxic train car fallout!

For those who don't read the news everyday, but would still like to know what's going on in Pittsburgh.

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photo by brian conway

Just how bad was it? Questions and concerns swirl following a Feb. 3 Norfolk Southern train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, some 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. The carcinogen, vinyl chloride, and butyl acrylate were deliberately burned, for fear of an explosion. The so-called controlled burn released a massive black fume of smoke into the atmosphere, poisoning the surrounding communities to an extent still to be determined.

Here’s the latest:

Boil water advisory persists. The advisory was caused by a power outage at a pump station Feb. 12, which could have resulted in contaminants entering drinking water undetected. There has been no indication of any contamination so far.  As of lunchtime Wednesday, still-impacted neighborhoods include Bloomfield, East Liberty, Friendship, Garfield, Highland Park, Homewood North, North Point Breeze, Shadyside and South Oakland. Get the latest updates from PWSA’s press page.

Shell flare burns bright. What’s causing elevated flaring at Shell’s plastic factory?  “An issue,” reports KDKA. Others, like the Beaver County Times, call it a “malfunction,” while noting that when the cracker plant quickly exceeded its rolling annual emissions limit on air contaminants last year, Shell said it was largely due to additional gas flaring. Local advocates call the continued flaring “unacceptable.” Chrissy Suttles reports for the Times.

Money piles while bridges crumble. State gas tax funds — “money specifically intended for local infrastructure that could potentially be used to jump-start work on some of the dozens of city bridges in rough condition” — is piling up in Pittsburgh’s coffers, to the tune of nearly $10 million to begin 2023. So why isn’t it being used to fix the city’s decaying infrastructure? Jon Moss reports for the Union Progress.

Inversions impact air pollution. One year ago, the Allegheny County Health Department “enacted a rule that required polluting industries in the Mon Valley to reduce particulate emissions during inversions,” which happens when cool air is trapped by warmer air above, causing pollution to remain at ground level inside Pittsburgh’s river valleys for prolonged periods of time. Quinn Glabicki reports on the rule’s effectiveness for PublicSource (and takes photos, too).

School funding system “unconstitutional”. In a “historic” ruling almost a decade in the making, the Commonwealth Court found Pennsylvania’s school funding system unconstitutional. But even if the ruling stands, it doesn’t mean school funding will necessarily increase, reports Marc Levy for the Associated Press.  Related: Lajja Mistry reports for PublicSource on the ruling’s implication for Allegheny County.

Gainey talks Downtown cops. At a public forum last Thursday, Mayor Gainey elaborated on his plan to increase the number of police officers Downtown. More than a dozen officers will be added to Downtown patrols, and a new public safety center will open temporarily on Liberty Ave. before permanent placement on Wood St. Justin Vellucci reports for the Tribune-Review

Hello union, goodbye job. In “a classic and vicious union-busting campaign” (says US Steelworkers), three workers at refugee-benefitting nonprofit, Hello Neighbor, were fired after asking for voluntary recognition of their bargaining unit. Hello Neighbor told City Paper “employees were terminated for financial reasons unrelated to the union drive.” Jordana Rosenfeld reports for Pittsburgh City Paper.

Local lawyer stands tall. When a local lawyer intervened in a traffic stop, “everything changed.” T’raune West, of Homewood, was allegedly pulled over for failure to use his turn signal, and handcuffed for 45 minutes while several officers searched his car. Then, Kate Lovelace, who was alerted to the situation, arrived and asserted herself as the man’s lawyer. West, who is Black, was taken out of handcuffs and released with a warning. Meghan Schiller reports for KDKA. RELATED: LWPNT #21 digs into the Pittsburgh Police decision to resume traffic stops for “minor” violations, despite a 2021 city council ordinance against the practice.

Local lawyer reaches federal bench. By a 50-44 vote, the US Senate confirmed Pittsburgh U.S. Attorney Cindy Chung as judge on the US 3rd Circuit court of appeals. Torsten Ove writes for the Union Progress. RELATED: Chung was lead attorney who authored the sentencing memo against Dan “Dos Noun” Muessig, one of America’s last cannabis prisoners, profiled in the Independent last May. 

Dems take state House. ICYMI: After going three-for-three in last week’s special election, the Democrats have secured a majority in the state House for the first time in over a decade. And now the work really begins.  Kim Lyons and Peter Hall report for the Penn Capital-Star. RELATED: Catch Pittsburgh Independent publisher, Brian Conway on last Friday’s City Cast podcast discussing the special election and more.

Spotlight tracks Shapiro’s pledges. Now that he’s in office, new Governor Josh Shapiro can enact all those promises he made on the campaign trail. Right?  Track the tracker

Crosby gets tossed. During the Penguins’ 6-0 loss to the LA Kings Saturday, captain Sidney Crosby was given a game misconduct – the first in his illustrious 18-season career, after chirping the ref following a misconduct penalty. Asked about it after the game, Sid said, “I mean, can I really say what I think anyway? Let’s be honest here.” ESPN has the story

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Note: In solidarity with striking Newspaper Guild workers, the Pittsburgh Independent will not share news from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Follow striking workers’ news coverage at the Pittsburgh Union Progress.

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He is a 2x 2023 Western PA Press Club Golden Quill award winner, in feature and business reporting. And a 3x finalist in the investigative reporting category.

He is a 2018 first prize winner in environmental reporting from the Keystone Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists for reporting on lead in Pittsburgh’s drinking water.

In 2022 and 2021, he was awarded a grant from The Gumshoe Group to support his investigative reporting.