Local Policy as a Public Health Solution

Primary prevention of exposure to environmental hazards requires upstream, systemic change. Policies that require identification and mitigation of toxic chemicals and materials in the places we live, learn, grow and play are highly effective at the local level. Any 130 of the municipalities in Allegheny County, as well as Allegheny County Council, can adopt policies related to a number of environmental exposures in our everyday lives. 

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Lead Poisoning Prevention

WHE and members of the Lead Safe Allegheny Coalition authored a Municipal Lead-Safe Policy Toolkit that contains policy recommendations for municipal action to reduce lead exposure and lead poisoning occurring as a result of deferred maintenance in rental housing, unsafe renovations and repairs that disturb lead paint, unsafe demolitions and drinking water contamination. Municipalities around the nation have begun to implement policies to address these pathways to lead poisoning. Policies promoting lead-safety in these areas ensure exposure to this neurotoxin never occurs in our most valuable community asset, our children.

Get the Lead out, PGH

The communications awareness campaign, Get the Lead Out Pittsburgh, collaborated with Pittsburgh City Council to pass The Pittsburgh Lead Safety Law in November 2021. This comprehensive ordinance protects Pittsburgh’s children from the lasting harm of lead poisoning by addressing the most common pathways of exposure: paint, dust, soil, and water. 

Council passed both a Will of Council addressing lead in water found in our schools and homes and the Pittsburgh Lead Safety Law that requires lead-safe rental homes and child-occupied spaces, lead-safe demolitions, lead-safe renovations and repairs, and lead-safe water in child-occupied city facilities. 


Tractor with high wheels is making fertilizer on young wheat

Glyphosate, a chemical commonly used in pesticides like Round Up spray, is a probable human carcinogen. Allegheny County or local municipalities can ban the use of herbicides containing glyphosate for publicly owned land in order to protect the health of children when playing in areas treated with pesticides and workers applying these dangerous chemicals.

Coal Tar and Coal-Tar Pitch

Industrial machinery working with asphal industrial laying fresh asphalt on construction site

According to the National Cancer Institute, coal tar is the byproduct of the production of coke, a solid fuel made by heating coal in the absence of air. Coal-tar pitch is a thick black liquid that remains after the distillation of coal tar. Both generally have a smoky or aromatic odor and have been classified as carcinogenic. Coal tar and coal tar pitch are commonly found in pavement sealants. A federal ban on the production of coal tar and coal-tar pitch in any commercial product would be the most health protective and efficient policy solution. Alternatively, states and localities can ban the sale or use of cosmetics and industrial products containing coal tar and coal-tar pitch.


Radon is a colorless, odorless, naturally occurring radioactive gas that can cause lung cancer after long periods of exposure indoors. Locally, the following action can be taken:

  • Allegheny County requirement for radon testing, disclosure of results, and remediation if needed prior to any real estate transactions.
  • Allegheny County requirement for all newly constructed homes and dwellings, schools and early learning centers to adhere to the Radon Resistant Construction Standards.
  • Municipal requirements for radon levels below the federal action level of 4 pCi/L as a condition for obtaining occupancy and building permits, and rental registration certificates if applicable.

Household Mold

Woman wearing glove, scrubbing mold off of a wall next to a window

Household mold can threaten your health in a variety of ways, and some have neurotoxic, reproductive, and carcinogenic properties. Right now, mold is not addressed in the county health code. Allegheny County could amend Article VI to include the absence of mold in the definition of a habitable dwelling. Municipal housing codes could also include the absence of mold as a condition of rental property certificates or licenses, as well as establish mold as violation that may be reported by current tenants to a code enforcement department.