County revises enforcement order, U.S. Steel to expedite repairs at Clairton Coke Works
The Allegheny County Health Department on Tuesday announced new enforcement requirements for U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works facility in the aftermath of a fire that released unusually high levels of sulfur dioxide throughout the Mon Valley.
The updated order incorporates a commitment from U.S. Steel to replace and bring back online damaged equipment by April 15 — more than a month earlier than county officials initially requested.
Under the revised order, U.S. Steel must replace fire-damaged axial compressors and begin testing the new equipment by April 1, with the goal of reaching 100 percent desulfurization by April 15. U.S. Steel must extend coking times to 27 hours at all batteries by March 23, a move that will help lower emissions levels in the meantime.
“We have some confidence in U.S. Steel, in that their response has been very fast, and the fact that they were able to move their time up from May 15 to April 15 shows that, apparently, they have committed significant resources to doing this,” said Jim Kelly, Allegheny County’s deputy director of environmental health. “The problem we have is that there’s still excess emissions.
“We have to make sure we find a way to reduce emissions between now and then.”
In its latest update to the public, published on Friday, U.S. Steel said the company has been keeping county health officials updated “while we continue to work around the clock to make the necessary repairs to bring the facility back to normal operations as quickly as possible.”
“The safety of our employees, contractors and neighbors remains our top priority and we will continue to provide updates as they become available,” U.S. Steel said in the statement.
The new enforcement actions replace a Feb. 28 order issued by the county after officials flagged air quality violations by U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works facilities, which include Clairton Coke Works, Edgar Thomson Plant in Braddock and Irvin Plant in West Mifflin.
“This revised order holds U.S. Steel accountable for meeting the new, shortened deadlines and emissions reductions,” Kelly said. “Should any progress be impeded, we are prepared to issue additional orders.”
The enforcement efforts follow 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.
The data also show that the amount of sulfur dioxide emitted daily from those three facilities exceeded federal and local air quality standards.
U.S. Steel also launched a website following the fire detailing repair efforts at Clairton Coke Works.
The Health Department issued an alert on Jan. 9, 2½ weeks after the fire, advising residents that there could be higher than usual sulfur dioxide, or SO2, emissions throughout the Mon Valley. The conditions raised particular concerns for those with asthma, bronchitis or emphysema, as well as children and the elderly.
Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .