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Allegheny County Health Department fines U.S. Steel $1 million for Clairton pollution

Chuck Biedka
| Thursday, June 28, 2018, 10:11 p.m.
Keith Srakocic/AP

Allegheny County is fining U.S. Steel more than $1 million for not meeting air pollution levels at its Clairton Coke Works.The county health department alleges U.S. Steel at times has not been in emissions compliance in July through December 2017 and January through March this year.

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Melissa Cox said she couldn't comment because she hasn't seen the health department's order.

The department said the site's Battery B was in full compliance in 2013. But last year, the compliance rate dropped to 61 percent and there were 16 violations. In April 2018, it had a compliance rate of 78 percent.

Clairton's Battery 13 performance decreased to 70 percent in 2017 and as of this April, compliance was only 50 percent.The lack of compliance violates a 2016 consent degree between U.S. Steel and the health department, the department alleges.

Environmental group PennFuture criticized the company for the pollution report.“This action by the county is further evidence of what Clairton residents who have suffered for years have known all along — that U.S. Steel is a bad actor and Clairton Coke Works is a Toxic Neighbor that must come into compliance with the law in order to stop the harm it has done to citizens' health in this neighborhood and the region,” said Jacquelyn Bonomo, PennFuture's president and CEO in a statement.

“This is a significant action taken by ACHD and its continued diligence and enforcement will ensure that citizens across the region can breathe clean air,” she said. Largest in nation

The Clairton Works is the largest by-products coke plant in North America. Clairton Works operates 10 coke batteries and produces about 10,000 tons of coke per day.

The plant uses destructive distillation (carbonization) of more than 16,000 tons of coal to produce about 10,000 tons of coke daily.

During the carbonization process, about 215 million cubic feet of coke oven gas are produced.

The health department said the volatile products of coal contained in the coke oven gas are recovered in the by-products plant.

In addition to the coke oven gas, daily production of these by-products include 145,000 gallons of crude coal tar, 55,000 gallons of light oil, 35 tons of elemental sulfur, and 50 tons of anhydrous ammonia, the health department said.The Clairton Works is 20 miles south of Pittsburgh on almost 400 acres along the Monongahela River.

Its lack of compliance “has had a direct impact on the nearby Liberty Monitor, which has begun to measure increasing levels of fine particulate matter, thus reversing a long-term trend of improvement,” said health department Director Dr. Karen Hacker.

“The Liberty Monitor is the only monitor in the county that is out of compliance with federal EPA air quality standards. The decrease in compliance has to be remedied to protect the health of our residents.”

In addition to the fine, U.S. Steel must also submit a comprehensive assessment of its coke batteries within 60 days.The assessment must include:

• details of all the current emissions at the Clairton Coke Works;

• a proposal on how the plant will reduce future sulfur dioxides, particulate matter and visible emissions;

• reductions of visible emissions shall be quantified by an increase in the rate of compliance with both inspection and continuous opacity monitors.The department said implementation of any proposed measures must begin within 30 days after the department approves the plans.

If compliance rates don't improve over two consecutive calendar quarters, the two worst-performing batteries at the Clairton facility will be ordered to cease operation until the heath department has determined that U.S. Steel has complied with terms of the order, the department said.

Chuck Biedka is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4711, cbiedka@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ChuckBiedka.

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