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Environmental groups sue U.S. Steel | TribLIVE.com
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Environmental groups sue U.S. Steel

Jamie Martines
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Clairton Coke Works on Jan. 15, 2019.
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Jamie Martines | Tribune-Review
Melanie Meade, of Clairton, speaks with reporters about how pollution from Clairton Coke Works has impacted residents in the Mon Valley on April 29, 2019 at the Allegheny County Courthouse.

Environmental groups are moving forward with a lawsuit against U.S. Steel over alleged federal Clean Air Act violations.

PennEnvironment and the Clean Air Council announced Monday that the lawsuit has been filed in United States District Court. The suit contends that U.S. Steel has been violating the federal Clean Air Act since a Dec. 24 fire at the Clairton Coke Works damaged equipment, hindering the facility’s ability to clean coke oven gas and control pollution.

“No one, not even an iconic company like U.S. Steel, should be allowed to break the law and put the health of Pittsburghers at risk,” said Ashleigh Deemer, Western Pennsylvania director with PennEnvironment. “In the 21st century, it’s unacceptable for a company to run what amounts to a doomsday machine that has no off switch. Unfortunately, U.S. Steel has put the health of our region and our environment at risk for generations.”

Under the Clean Air Act, private individuals and organizations must give alleged violators 60 days notice before filing a lawsuit in federal court.

U. S. Steel is reviewing the lawsuit and said it will respond appropriately and in accordance with court requirements, according to a statement Monday.

In February, the groups said they would sue if U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works facilities — which include Clairton Coke Works, Irvin Steel Mill and Edgar Thomson Plant — did not resolve alleged Clean Air Act permit violations related to coke oven gas pollution.

The groups are seeking a court order that would require U.S. Steel to comply with air permits, an order that would require U.S. Steel to remediate harm caused to local communities as well as hefty civil penalties to punish U.S. Steel for past violations and deter future violations, according to a statement from the groups.

No residents are included as plaintiffs in the lawsuit, but several members of PennEnvironment and Clean Air Council who have been impacted by the pollution will serve as witnesses, said Maggie Nivison, staff attorney with the National Environmental Law Center, which is assisting PennEnvironment and Clean Air Council with the suit.

The Health Department issued an alert on Jan. 9, 2½ weeks after the fire, advising residents — especially those with asthma, bronchitis or emphysema, as well as children and the elderly — that there could be higher than usual sulfur dioxide emissions throughout the Mon Valley.

In the weeks that followed, the health department issued several reports of higher than normal levels of sulfur dioxide and some Mon Valley residents reported feeling sick, with symptoms ranging from headaches to sore throats to difficulty breathing.

The health department has since determined that those spikes were related to a lack of desulfurization at the Clairton Coke Works.

“When we ignore what the Clairton Coke Works is doing, then that allows us to ignore what every other illegal entity in the community is doing,” Clairton resident Melanie Meade told reporters Monday. “And it is time that we have a group stand up in Clairton and speak to the needs of the community, and speak for the future of our children.”

U.S. Steel announced that repairs to the damaged equipment were complete April 4 — about two weeks ahead of schedule.

Those repairs don’t address what the groups have identified as a long-term problem: the concern that this could happen again, Nivison said.

“We’ll have to continue to look into that further to see whether any of these violations are continuing in terms of the operation of their pollution controls, whether they’ve continued past the date of the re-initiation of the desulfurization unit,” Nivison said. “However the harms do continue, folks suffered significant impact to their respiratory health, to the enjoyment of their community, and we know that the health impacts from air pollutants are long-lasting.”

This is not the only lawsuit U.S. Steel is facing in connection to the Dec. 24 fire at Clairton Coke Works.

Earlier this month, an East Pittsburgh resident initiated a class action lawsuit against the company, alleging that U.S. Steel was negligent and reckless my allowing the plant to continue operating after the fire and for failing to notify residents immediately.

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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