This page summarizes the specific legislatively enacted laws and regulations – Federal, State, County, and Municipal – and common law actions – negligence, nuisance and trespass – that apply to air pollution, smoke, odor, particulate, soot, emissions, and wood smoke air pollution.

At the local level these include ordinances that municipal governing authorities, such as the city, county or borough council have passed. At the County level these include ordinances that the County Executive has approved. Ordinances apply to the local jurisdiction only, as opposed to the entire state or nation.

Pennsylvania statutes grant the Allegheny County Health Department Board of Health the authority to pass public health rules and regulations with County Council’s and the County Executive’s approval.

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The Clean Air Act (CAA) – is a federal law, meaning that it was passed by Congress and applies to all state and local jurisdictions under the constitutional doctrines of federal supremacy and preemption.

The Clean Air Act charges the EPA to set National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) of two types primary and secondary, for pollutants that are detrimental to public health and the environment respectfully. Accordingly, the EPA has identified NAAQS for six key pollutants or “criteria” air pollutants: Carbon Monoxide, Lead, Nitrogen Oxides, Particulate Matter (PM10 and PM2.5), Ozone and Sulfur Dioxide.

The CAA stipulates that private citizens may bring civil actions against alleged violators of the CAA NAAQS emission standards or limitations.


The Air Pollution Control Act (APCA) provides “for the better protection of the health, general welfare and property of the people of the Commonwealth by the control, abatement, reduction and prevention of the pollution of the air by smokes, dusts, fumes, gases, odors, mists, vapors, pollens and similar matter, or any combination thereof.” https://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Air/BAQ/Regulations/Documents/apca.pdf

Specific and relevant stipulations in the APCA are:

  • Provision for citizens to bring civil actions for violations of the Act
  • Prohibition of persons from permitting “air pollution” as per the definition in the Act.

The APCA defines “air pollution” as:

“The presence in the outdoor atmosphere of any form of containment, including, but not limited to, the discharging from stacks, chimneys openings, buildings, structures, open fires, vehicles, processes or any other source of any smoke, soot, fly ash, dust, cinders, dirt noxious or obnoxious acids, fumes, oxides, gases, vapors, odors, toxic, hazardous or radioactive substances, waste or any other matter in such place, manner or concentration inimical or which may be inimical to the public health, safety or welfare or which is or may be injurious to human, plant or animal life or to property or which unreasonably interferes with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.”

The APCA defines “air contaminant” as “smoke, dust, fume, gas, odor, mist, radioactive substance, vapor, pollen or any combination thereof.”


In Allegheny County, Ordinance No. 16782, and the Allegheny County Health Department Rules and Regulations including Article XXI Air Pollution Control and Article XI Hearings and Appeals address air pollution.

Article XXI Air Pollution Control establishes an “air pollution control program which is consistent with the requirements of the Air Pollution Control Act and the Clean Air Act”. Sections in Article XXI that bear on wood smoke include:

“§2101.13 Nuisances: Any violation of any requirement of this Article shall constitute a nuisance.”

“§2104.01 Visible Emissions a. General. No person shall operate, or allow to be operated, any source except those specifically excluded by Subsection b below in such manner that the opacity of visible emissions from a flue or process fugitive emissions from such source, excluding uncombined water: 1. Equal or exceed an opacity of 20% for a period or periods aggregating more than three (3) minutes in any 60-minute period; or, 2. Equal or exceed an opacity of 60% at any time.”

“§2104.04 Odor Emissions a. General. No person shall operate, or allow to be operated, any source in such manner that emissions of malodorous matter from such source are perceptible beyond the property line of such source.”

“§2105.50 Open Burning a. General. 1. No person shall conduct, or allow to be conducted, the open burning of any material, except where the Department has issued an open burning permit to such person in accordance with this Section or where the open burning is conducted solely for the purpose of preparation of food for human consumption, recreation, light, or ornament, and in a manner which contributes a negligible amount of air contaminants, and which is in accordance with Subparagraphs A through C, below. A. No material other than clean wood, propane, or natural gas may be burned except as provided for in this subparagraph. i. Charcoal may be used in an outdoor fireplace or grill for the purpose of cooking. ii. Commercially available fire logs, paraffin logs, or wood pellets may be used in outdoor fireplaces. iii. Paper or commercial smokeless fire starters may be used with clean wood to start an allowed fire. B. Any volume of clean wood being burned shall be no larger than 3’ wide x 3’ long x 2’ high and shall be at least 15 feet from the nearest neighbor’s dwelling or inhabited area, any property line, roadway, sidewalk, or public access way. C. Open burning using chimineas, firepits, or outdoor fireplaces may only be conducted using materials meeting Subparagraph A, above. 2. Any open burning shall be tended by a responsible person at all times. 3. Wood burning activities shall not be conducted on Air Quality Action Days, with the exception of conducting such burning for the commercial preparation of food. 4. The Department may prohibit, or reduce, any open burning activity which it determines to be a nuisance. This determination will be based on, but not limited to, the following criteria: A. The severity of the amount of air pollutants, or malodorous material; B. The duration or frequency of open burning; C. The topography of the surroundings; and/or D. The meteorological conditions.”

§2107.11 Visible Emissions

§2107.13 Odor Emissions

The Department’s Source Testing Manual is by reference an integral part of Article XXI as to emissions sampling and testing such as:

Chapter 9 Method 9A Allegheny County Method of Determining Visible Emissions

Chapter 48 Measurement of Odor Emissions Beyond Source Boundary Lines

Article XI. Hearings and Appeals “provides for appeals to and hearings before the Director and Hearing Officer of the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), sets forth definitions, and outlines procedures governing hearings and appeals”.

The Health Department’s website provides links to its Rules and Regulations including Article XXI and Article XI and the Source Testing Manual:






In Allegheny County there are 130 independent municipalities (https://apps.alleghenycounty.us/website/munimap.asp) each with its own governing ordinance or code that may or may not address the wood smoke issue. Certain codes have adopted provisions to specifically regulate wood burning in tune with the County ordinance or not; certain codes address uses that emit odor, dust, smoke, gas, vibration or noise.

A few examples of a very mixed bag of regulations follow –

The Borough of West View: Chapter 122 Burning, Outdoor – § 122-1 Preamble. §122-2 Prohibition.

§122-3 Fire regulations.

§122-4 Enforcement; violations and penalties.2

The Borough of Bethel Park:

Chapter 47Nuisances

Chapter 69 Zoning – Article IV General Provisions – 69.19.1.Prohibited uses.

“The following uses are prohibited and are hereby excluded from the entire municipality:…

53. In general, those uses which may be noxious or offensive by reason of the emission of odor, dust smoke, gas, vibration or noise.”

The Borough publicizes the “Bethel Park Burning Regulations” but the Code does not address open burning.1

The Borough of Millvale: Part II: General LegislationChapter 109 Burning, Open1;Part II: General LegislationChapter 312 Zoning – Article V Performance Standards and Supplementary Regulations§312-19 Performance standardsF. Dust, fumes, vapor, and gas control. “The emission of dust, dirt, flash, fumes, vapors, or gases which cause any damage to human health, animals, vegetation, or other forms of property, or which can cause soiling or staining of persons or property at any point beyond the lot line of the use creating such emission, is hereby prohibited.”

The Borough of Edgewood – Chapter 142 Nuisances – §142-2 Nuisances prohibited. – “It shall be unlawful for any person to maintain anywhere within the Borough of Edgewood any condition, structure or place that shall constitute a nuisance or a menace to the public health, safety or general welfare.”

The Borough publicizes “Allegheny County Open Burning Regulations” but the Code does not address open burning.1

Richland Township – “(Editor’s Note) Former Part 3, Burning Regulations, adopted 6/4/2003 by Ord. 387, which immediately followed this section, was repealed 3/18/2015 by Ord. 480. Effective January 1, 2015, open burning regulations adopted by the Allegheny County Health Department became applicable to all municipalities in Allegheny County.”

Etna Borough – Chapter 396 Nuisances, §396-1 Definition and interpretation: “Using any property or operating any business or other activity so as to permit or cause smoke, soot, cinders, fly ash, dust, mud, dirt, acid, noxious or offensive fumes, gases or odors to be discharged into the air, or to be carried off the premises,… as to cause annoyance to residents or interference with the normal use of adjacent properties.”

Monroeville Borough – Chapter 359 Zoning – §359-30 Environmental protection requirements – “B. Reasonable safeguards shall be established for all uses in every zone to prevent possible detriment to neighboring properties through emission of smoke, fumes, odor, dust, noise, vibration or glaring light.”

Crafton Borough – Chapter 113 Fire Prevention and Fire Protection – Article I Burning Combustible Materials Ordinance 2 §113-1 Definitions. §113-2 Allegheny County regulations.

§113-2.1 Open fires and outdoor fires.§113-2.2 Outdoor stoves and grills. §113-2.3 Fire pits, chimineas, factory-built metal novelty stoves, other outdoor burning apparatuses. §113-2.4 Indoor fireplaces, wood-burning stoves, coal stoves, coal furnaces or solid fuel heaters.

Bellevue Borough – The Tri-Borough Communities Joint Zoning Ordinance – Article IX – Performance Standards – §2000-905 Odors. §2000-906 Smoke. §2000-907 Air Pollution.

One may find municipal codes at: https://law-duq.libguides.com/municipal-codes. These codes may or may not be current; check with the municipality to see if there are updates.

Most if not all of the codes/ordinances are available on the municipality’s website. You may also search on “ecode360.com [Municipality]” in your browser to find a link to the desired municipal code.

Common Law Environmental Remedies – Negligence, Nuisance and Trespass


“Common law” in contrast to statutory or legislatively enacted law does not revolve around “a fixed or absolute set of written rules” but rather “unwritten principles” that “are flexible and adaptable…”3. Common law actions are bought in civil suits where the plaintiff seeks to find relief to a perceived violation of its rights.

Common law actions as to environmental issues often include three types: nuisance, trespass and negligence.

You can contest environmental pollution using negligence as to damages for personal injury or other damaging results or trespass as to interference with possession of property i.e., invasion of property interest or nuisance actions as to comfort, use and enjoyment of property.


Nuisance is a common “count” (see Application page under Laws tab) bought by a plaintiff to protect its right as a landowner to use and enjoy its property.

One may define Nuisance as “that activity which arises from the unreasonable, unwarrantable or unlawful use by a person of his own property, working an obstruction or injury to the right of another or to the public, and producing such material annoyance, inconvenience, and discomfort that the law will presume resulting damage”.3

“A nuisance arises whenever a person uses his property to cause material injury or annoyance to a reasonable neighbor. Odors, dust, smoke, other airborne pollutants, water pollutants and hazardous substances have all been held to be nuisances. Nuisance actions come in two forms: public and private.

Under both private and public nuisance law, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s activity unreasonably interfered with the use or enjoyment of a protected interest and caused the plaintiff substantial harm.

The trier of fact determines whether an activity is unreasonable by balancing the social utility of the activities against the harm they create.”3

One may use private nuisance actions to seek relief and stop another from interfering with his/her property and comfort in and enjoyment of the property.


While nuisance infers interference with the use and enjoyment of property, trespass infers interference with the possession of property.

Trespass in environmental cases may be in evidence when a party is affecting the emission of particulate matter, smoke or malodorous matter across the boundary of the premises onto another’s land i.e. when a party affects “an invasion of the plaintiff’s interest in the exclusive possession of his land”3.


And finally, “Negligence” in environmental cases can be what “a reasonable and prudent man would not do… under all the circumstances”3 given a foreseeable result.

For example, a painting contractor could be guilty of negligence if it paints a bridge and allows spray paint residue to fall on the cars below despite the fact that it was well aware of the hazards of spray painting and the disposition of spray should it not contain the spray properly.

1 Consistent with ACHD regulations i.e., Article XXI, Section 2105.50 Open Burning

2 Not generally consistent with ACHD regulations i.e., Article XXI, Section 2105.50 Open Burning