Clairton Coke Works. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) has sent a letter to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking it to examine benzene concentrations around all three U.S. Steel plants in the Mon Valley.

The letter from the nonprofit organization, whose mission is to protect communities and the environment from industrial pollution, urges the EPA to address harmful levels of fine particulate matter, PM2.5, and hydrogen sulfide around the Irvin, Clairton and Edgar Thomson plants. For six days in October and November, PM2.5 exceeded federal air quality standards, and hydrogen sulfide levels were above Pennsylvania’s air quality standards for more than 20 days. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that exposure to benzene causes dizziness and vomiting and is carcinogenic to people after prolonged exposure. 

“Benzene concentrations this high are just not acceptable,” says EIP Deputy Director Jen Duggan in the letter. “Local authorities have repeatedly failed to seriously address toxic pollution from the U.S. Steel plants, and we are asking EPA to step in and provide the necessary relief for these communities and workers at the plant.”

EIP requests that the EPA use the federal Clean Air Act to reduce Mon Valley’s toxic emissions and inspect U.S. Steel plants.

“Residents, specifically in the Mon Valley (Clairton), should not have to suffer at the cost of industry financial gains,” says Clairton resident Germaine Gooden-Patterson in the letter.  “My health is at risk, my children’s health is at risk, and my neighbor’s health is at risk.”

This is not the first time U.S. Steel was implicated in air quality issues in the Mon Valley. In 2021, the Allegheny County Health Department fined the company more than $800,000 for alleged pollution and permit violations at the Clairton Coke Works plant. In December, U.S. Steel was fined more than $450,00 for emissions violations at the same plant. 

A spokesperson for the EPA told Allegheny Front reporters that the agency is examining the details provided in the letter and plans to respond soon. U.S. Steel also is reviewing the letter. 

Jason Phox is a journalist in the Pittsburgh area sharing important information with the people of the Steel City. He enjoys writing, photography, and mostly comic books.