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Coal dust causes concerns for some in West Elizabeth

| Friday, April 12, 2013, 3:51 a.m.
Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
James Halt vacuumes his back porch carpets to remove coal dust from his West Elizabeth home.

Many West Elizabeth residents, especially those living near state Route 837, for months have complained about black coal dust on their properties and in their homes.

“It feels like baby powder, but it's black,” resident James Halt said.

Halt and others said they believe the dust is coming from trucks transporting coal from mines in Somerset County to RiverLift Industries at 1000 Madison Ave. in West Elizabeth.

“I live on 837 and they come right past my house,” Halt said. “I've been having coal dust in my house. I could have the doors closed and it's still in my house.”

He said there is residue on his patio furniture, windows, carpets and in other areas of his home.

“We're concerned of what we're breathing it in,” Halt's wife Edith said.

“Coal miners have to wear masks when they deal with coal dust,” Halt said.

He said the coal dust began appearing last August.

“My screens are all black,” Councilwoman Janet Isaacs, who lives a few doors down from the Halts, said. “It's bad. It's never been this bad. My house used to be white.”

Halt said he hasn't noticed as many trucks since he met with RiverLift Industries co-owner Bob Schaefer and borough officials last week.

Councilman Daryl Celestino said he is getting an air monitor for the borough.

“I'm more concerned about the health issues than the cosmetic issues,” he said.

Celestino said the roof of his mother's Viola Street house is black because of the dust.

“My mother's window washer came on Tuesday and washed her windows,” he said. “He asked what the heck was going on and (said) that the coal dust on her windows was horrendous.”

Celestino said he met with a health department representative on Wednesday to show him the extent of the dust.

Spokesman Guillermo Cole said the health department received a complaint last December about deposits settling on some West Elizabeth properties, homes and vehicles caused by uncovered trucks delivering coal to RiverLift Industries, formerly known as Clairton Slag.

“We investigated the next day and issued a notice of violation to Clairton Slag for tracking coal dust outside their property line,” Cole said.

“The violation notice included a $1,750 fine and a request for a compliance plan to ensure coal dust is not tracked outside the property line. In January, Clairton Slag paid the fine and acquired a street sweeper, truck wash, and also paved roads inside the plant. Since then, we have an inspector who monitors the operation weekly and believe that the situation has improved tremendously since we got involved.”

Cole said the dust isn't “a significant health hazard since the particles do not stay airborne for long and are not readily inhaled.”

Schaefer said tarped trucks carrying coal are coming from Somerset County to his facility, where the coal is loaded onto barges and transported to U.S. Steel's Clairton plant. He said the trucks are owned by individuals, not by his company.

“The trucks are being washed as they leave,” Schaefer said.

He said his company has been around since 1966 and has been handling coal for 20-30 years.

Schaefer said he's not sure the coal dust is coming from the trucks going to his business.

“We're doing everything we can to work with everybody, and to continue to work with them,” he said.

Stacy Lee is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1970, or