Mon Valley residents at risk following fire at Clairton Coke Works
Officials from the Allegheny County Health Department are encouraging Mon Valley residents — especially those with asthma, bronchitis or emphysema, as well as children and the elderly — to limit outdoor activities until further notice following a Dec. 24 fire at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works.
This recommendation includes residents of Braddock, Clairton, Dravosburg, Duquesne, East McKeesport, East Pittsburgh, Elizabeth Borough, Elizabeth Township, Forward, Glassport, Jefferson Hills, Liberty, Lincoln, McKeesport, North Braddock, North Versailles, Pleasant Hills, Port Vue, Versailles, Wall, West Elizabeth and West Mifflin.
The department waited until Wednesday to issue the health warning to see if corrective actions taken by U.S. Steel after the fire had an impact on emissions, said Jim Kelly, the department’s deputy director for environmental health.
The list of neighborhoods included in the warning was determined by modeling how far the gases could travel.
“We don’t want to scare the public,” Kelly said. “A lot of effort was made to fix the emissions.”
The fire damaged two gas dispatcher stations, which disrupted systems that clean coke oven gas, according to a statement from the department. This has resulted in higher than usual sulfur dioxide, or SO2, emissions.
The fire was detected in a control room at the plant around 4:15 a.m. on Dec. 24, according to a statement from Meghan Cox, spokesperson for U.S. Steel. There were no injuries.
“We continue to investigate the incident and are working on repairing damages to the affected areas, including the desulfurization process, which is intended to reduce SO2 emissions,” Cox said.
She did not say how long the repairs would take.
Sulfur dioxide is a colorless gas that could affect breathing and may aggravate respiratory and cardiovascular conditions, according to the health department. It smells like a match that has just been struck.
Clairton Coke Works has exceeded federal standards for hourly sulfur dioxide emissions six times in the two and a half weeks since the fire, Kelly said Wednesday during a county Board of Health meeting. Kelly said coke oven gas is usually clean when it is released from the ovens, but the damage to the equipment following the fire has hindered the plant’s ability to remove sulfur from the gas.
Clairton Coke Works has extended coking times helps to minimize the amount of gas produced, and subsequently, the amount of sulfur dioxide released.
All air quality data, including hourly reports, can be found online at the Allegheny County Health Department Website.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, email@example.com or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .