Local Leaders Call For Change After Coke Works Fire

A second fire at the U.S Steel Clairton Coke Works has Rich Fitzgerald and Myron Arnowitt speaking out

Marty Griffin and Wendy Bell
June 18, 2019 - 1:10 pm

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PITTSBURGH (Newsradio 1020 KDKA) - The Allegheny County Health Department confirmed on Tuesday morning in a release that inspectors have verified that the desulfurization process was back online at the U.S Steel Clairton Coke Works after a fire.

Monday morning's electrical fire started around 4:20am and forced two control rooms to shutdown, which prevented the desulfurization of the coke oven gas. These control rooms were the same ones that were also forced to shut down following a fire last year on Christmas Eve.

On Monday evening, the Allegheny County Health Department issued an emergency order, stating that U.S Steel had one day to submit a plan on how they will manage pollution at the site and 20 days to comply; otherwise, the company would have to cease operations.

Pennsylvania Director for Clean Water Action Myron Arnowitt told KDKA Radio’s Marty Griffin and Wendy Bell on Tuesday afternoon that he has been aware of issues with Clairton Coke Works for some time. “This plant has had problems with their pollution violations for decades,” Arnowitt said.  “We looked at the number of air quality violations in the Mon Valley because of U.S Steel’s Clairton Coke Works. We found, not only have we been failing to meet the federal standards for years. Just like last year, there were three times as many violations in the Mon Valley as there were in the entire rest of Pennsylvania combined.”

Residents in the areas surrounding the coke plant have told Arnowitt that they are seeing detrimental health effects. “I’ve known lots of families who have had asthma, not just kids but also adults. Seniors have been really impacted. Obviously we have a lot of seniors living in our region but especially in the Mon Valley.” Some seniors have told Anrowitt that on multiple occasions they don’t have enough energy to walk up stairs in their homes.  

“This is something that is really serious,” Arnowitt said. “A lot of families have suffered from cancer, someone in their family has worked at the Coke Works and they’ve died from cancer. People have really suffered because of the health problems from this plant.”

Arnowitt told Marty and Wendy that most of the U.S Steel’s investments into Pennsylvania mills will go towards the U.S Steel Edgar Thomson Works plant in Braddock because they produce steel at that site. “U.S Steel is not proposing any kind of major emissions reductions at the Clairton Coke Works, and that’s the problem we have with U.S Steel’s plan,” Arnowitt said. “They need to do something for Clariton. They need to make sure that the plant is producing a lot less pollution than it used to. That is the only situation that will work for the Mon Valley.”

Arnowitt isn't the only one worried about Clariton.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald told Marty and Wendy on Tuesday afternoon that residents in Clarition deserve to have their anxieties relieved. “It’s almost like somebody who lives next to a stream that’s in a floodplain. You’re worried every single time it rains that you’re going to get flooded. They need some assurity and predictability that this is going to improve, that their families are going to be safe.”

Ftizgerald said for the first time, the Liberty monitor was in compliance with PM2.5 in 2018. Despite this achievement, Fitzgerald said that improvements must continue. “Why isn’t there a backup system, a redundancy system?  There needs to be a backup system that the desulfurization pollution equipment will come online if there is an interruption in the electrical service."

Fitzgerald said that he believes U.S Steel wants to do the right thing but regulatory agencies like the Allegheny County Health Department, the EPA and the DEP must continue to monitor what U.S Steel is doing in Pennsylvania.

“You probably talk to folks who have lived in that community for a long time, and they will say that it is better than it was. For some people or people who have moved in, it’s not enough,” Fitzgerald said. “I think they’ve got to make sure that whoever’s in the community, doing manufacturing or whatever process that it is, that they follow regulations. Our regulators have got to make sure that people are following the law.”

Ashley Funyak contributed to this article.

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