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Shenango emissions draw focus of Neville Island residents

Beyond the sign that reads "Welcome to Neville Island" stands an industrial collage of buildings, pipes and chimneys that hiss plumes of mostly white steam. But they're not always white.

It's the Shenango Inc. plant's dark, dirty emissions that concern the Neville Island Good Neighbor Committee, which is made up of residents of communities along the Ohio River. On Wednesday, members of the group delivered a letter to Shenango officials asking for a meeting to discuss emissions from its coke ovens.

A chimney stack at the coke works belched a cloud of black smoke as Ted Popovich, a Ben Avon retiree and volunteer smoke observer who monitors and records the plant's emissions each week, explained how previous meetings with company officials proved unsuccessful in reducing emissions.

"See right there, those black emissions should not be there," Popovich said. "That's exactly what we are talking about."

Plant manager Steven Guzy appeared briefly to accept a letter from the group of about 10 people that included members of the community group and Clean Water Action Pennsylvania. Guzy declined to comment other than to say he plans to meet with the group.

The Allegheny County Health Department monitors emissions near there and has levied more than 150 citations for violations at the plant this year, including about 40 since August. DTE Energy, the Detroit-based company that owns the plant, is appealing 114 violations and $114,000 in fines it received through July. Health department officials have not determined a fine for the more recent violations, spokesman Guillermo Cole said.

Members of the local group want to discuss the reasons the violations occurred, whether the problem will be fixed, why the company appealed its fine and what it plans to do to improve the region's air quality.

DTE spokesman John Austerberry said the company will schedule a meeting with the group. He said DTE, which bought the Shenango plant in 2008, has regularly participated in meetings of the Neville Island Community Advisory Panel.

"With all of our operations, we work closely with the communities," Austerberry said. "That is the culture we are building at DTE."

Shenango recently reduced coke production by about 20 percent, and harmful emissions dropped by about the same amount, Cole said. The health department is working with company officials on an agreement to create control measures to reduce harmful emissions when production increases, he said.

Emissions are released when hot coke -- a fuel used in steelmaking that is produced by baking coal -- is moved from an oven to a quenching station, Popovich said. Shenango has 56 ovens inside its battery.

Smoke from the plant can contain particulates and pollutants that can cause cancer and respiratory problems, according to the health department.

"We've been struggling to bring the area into compliance with the (federal) Clean Air Act," said Tom Hoffman, Clean Water's Western Pennsylvania director. "We need people like DTE to step up."

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