GASP sues Neville Island coke plant over air pollution concerns

The southeast end of Neville Island is home to the Shenango Inc. coke plant, owned by Michigan-based DTE Energy Services, the West View Water Authority and other industrial facilities.
The southeast end of Neville Island is home to the Shenango Inc. coke plant, owned by Michigan-based DTE Energy Services, the West View Water Authority and other industrial facilities.
Photo by Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
| Thursday, May 8, 2014, 3:27 p.m.

The Group Against Smog and Pollution criticized Shenango Inc. and the Allegheny County Health Department in a federal lawsuit filed on Thursday against the Neville Island coke plant, claiming the company and regulators have failed to protect the public from harmful air emissions.

The lawsuit claims Shenango is in violation of the federal Clean Air Act and county regulations and alleges the health department has not gone far enough to stop the pollution.

Allegheny County and DTE Energy, a Michigan-based utility that bought Shenango in 2008, reached a settlement in April requiring the company to pay a $300,000 fine and spend more than $1 million on pollution control upgrades. GASP said the agreement falls short.

“The settlement agreement that they reached with the county in April didn't cover the three categories of violations we cover in the lawsuit,” said John Baillie, an attorney for GASP.

Shenango has been “ahead of schedule delivering on our commitments under the new settlement” and has improved compliance at the plant, DTE spokesman Alejandro Bodipo-Memba wrote in an email.

Jim Thompson, deputy director of environmental health for the health department, told the county Board of Health on Wednesday that compliance had improved and no new violations were recorded in the past two weeks.

Thompson did not return calls on Thursday seeking reaction to the lawsuit. Guillermo Cole, a department spokesman, said he was not authorized to comment.

GASP contends that the county's settlement with Shenango does not address visible emissions from the coke plant's combustion stacks and oven doors or the amount of sulfur found in its coke oven gas. The lawsuit asked the court to declare that Shenango violated emission limits; prohibit the facility from further violations; require Shenango to pay fines for violations and compensation for legal fees; and retain jurisdiction over the enforcement actions. It does not ask that Shenango be shut down.

In an interview with the Tribune-Review before the lawsuit was filed, Mike Best, the plant manager at Shenango, said the facility's compliance with visual emissions from its oven doors had been 95 percent since April 15. Best, a former U.S. Steel research engineer who took over as Shenango manager in November, said improving and sustaining compliance and reducing leaking emissions is the goal of the comprehensive environmental plan the facility established.

Shenango is nearly complete with an extension to a dust emissions shed to better control air pollution, a requirement of the settlement that has already helped improve compliance in the past few weeks to 96 percent, Best said.

“You can't help but notice the hydrogen sulfide stench,” Clint Hoover, who can see Shenango's smoke stacks from the window of his Avalon home, said last week. “That can really ruin a summer's day.”

Hoover, 58, attended a public meeting on April 30 where concerned residents asked health department officials about the settlement agreement. Frustration was high, he said.

“We're a little suspicious if this one is going to make much of a difference,” Hoover said.

“I don't know if anybody walked away from the meeting feeling that the health department was really on their side protecting their health.”

Brian Bowling and Aaron Aupperlee are a staff writers for Trib Total Media.

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