Allegheny County Health Department issues enforcement order against U.S. Steel |

Allegheny County Health Department issues enforcement order against U.S. Steel

Jamie Martines
Clairton Coke Works on Jan. 15, 2019.

U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works facilities have violated local and federal air quality regulations and must get back in compliance, according to an order issued by the Allegheny County Health Department on Thursday.

The order requires the facilities — which include Clairton Coke Works in Clairton, Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock and Irvin Plant in West Mifflin — to choose among reducing the volume of coal in each coke oven, further extending coking times or putting coke oven batteries in “hot idle” status, according to the order.

U.S. Steel may also propose its own plan to reduce emissions.

“To get the plant back into compliance, and to protect the health of the public, it was essential to prepare and issue this evidence-based order,” Jim Kelly, deputy director of environmental health at the Allegheny County Health Department, said in a statement.

The order stems from a series of spikes in sulfur dioxide emissions since a Dec. 24 fire at Clairton Coke Works hindered the facility’s ability to clean coke oven gas.

The most recent spike on Feb. 4, which was measured at the health department’s North Braddock air quality monitor, marked the seventh time health department air quality monitors detected sulfur dioxide levels that exceeded federal standards for hourly emissions.

Since then, the health department has determined that the exceedance was directly related to a lack of desulfurization at Clairton Coke Works, Kelly said in the statement. The data also show that the amount of sulfur dioxide emitted daily from those three facilities exceeds federal and local air quality standards.

U.S. Steel is reviewing the order, according to a statement provided by spokesperson Meghan Cox.

“This matter has been a top priority for the entire company since it occurred, and we continue to work around the clock with maximum resources to resolve it as quickly as possible,” the statement said. “Prior to the fire, we had made significant environmental performance improvements. While the fire is an unfortunate setback, we are committed to continuing that progress.”

Environmental advocacy groups that have been calling for increased oversight of the U.S. Steel facilities since the Dec. 24 fire were happy to see the health department issue the enforcement order.

“We all have the same goals: ensuring that pollution controls are restored, minimizing harmful emissions, and promoting healthy air in the community,” Christopher Ahlers, staff attorney with the Clean Air Council, said in a statement. “We want to ensure a complete, speedy, and just resolution of this public health problem.”

Clean Air Council, along with the group PennEnvironment, announced earlier this month that they planned to sue U.S. Steel over alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. In a joint statement Thursday, both organizations said that they intend to move forward with filing a lawsuit at the conclusion of a mandatory 60-day notice period, which was initiated Feb. 13.

“We hope to work cooperatively with the Health Department to uphold vital limits on air pollution and create a disincentive for any company to let such a situation — operating a plant without a functioning pollution control system — happen again,” Ashleigh Deemer, PennEnvironment’s Western Pennsylvania director, said in the statement.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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