East Pittsburgh resident sues U.S. Steel over Clairton Coke Works fire | TribLIVE.com
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Jamie Martines

An East Pittsburgh resident has filed a class action lawsuit against U.S. Steel in connection with the Dec. 24 fire at the Clairton Coke Works.

Linda Hernandez claims she started feeling sick after spending hours outside on Christmas Eve decorating her East Pittsburgh home, according to the lawsuit.

She said she smelled a “chemical and sulfurous odor” and experienced physical discomforts like a burning throat, difficulty breathing, headache and persistent coughing, according to the lawsuit.

U.S. Steel did not immediately reply to a request for comment Wednesday.

The lawsuit alleges that U.S. Steel was negligent and reckless by allowing the plant to continue operating after the fire and for failing to notify residents immediately following the fire.

It argues that U.S. Steel “had a duty to area residents to exercise ordinary care to prevent foreseeable interference — here, by the release of offensive odors and noxious emissions — with the residents’ use and enjoyment of their properties.”

The lawsuit was filed with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas on April 9.

East Pittsburgh was one of 22 communities included in warnings issued by the Allegheny County Health Department following the fire. The fire knocked out equipment at the plant and hindered the facility’s ability to clean coke oven gas.

In the weeks that followed, the health department issued several reports of higher than normal levels of sulfur dioxide, or SO2. The health department has since determined that those spikes were related to a lack of desulfurization at the Clairton Coke Works.

Though the exact number of class members is unknown, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of all the residents of those communities and is believed to be in the tens of thousands, according to the complaint.

Hernandez continued to experience those symptoms during the months following the fire, the lawsuit said.

She stopped taking her dogs for walks, kept her granddaughter inside and limited outdoor activity. She felt a reprieve from those symptoms when she vacationed outside the Mon Valley area, the lawsuit said.

Hernandez was not available for an interview due to the pending litigation, her lawyer, Scott Entin of the Chicago-based law firm Miner, Barnhill and Galland said Tuesday.

The firm has handled similar pollution-related class action suits in the past, including one representing residents of Muscatine, Iowa against a nearby factory causing air pollution.

In February, an Iowa judge approved a $50 million settlement for the 15,000 residents and required the Grain Processing Corporation to install additional pollution controls, according to reports from Iowa Public Radio.

Hernandez is requesting a jury trial.

Entin said his firm will be working closely with the Pittsburgh-based law firm Feinstein, Doyle, Payne and Kravec.

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