Clairton Coke Works. Photo by Mark Dixon / Blue Lens, LLC.

Local environmental advocates are urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revoke U.S. Steel’s operating permit for Clairton Coke Works, which the Allegheny County Health Department renewed in November. On March 6, the Group Against Smog & Pollution (GASP) petitioned to bring the plant into compliance with emission limits for its coke ovens.

The plant has just been ranked as the worst air polluter in Allegheny County according to the “Toxic Ten” report released on April 4 by the PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center.

Exposure to coke oven emissions increases the risk of lung cancer and is associated with kidney cancer according to the National Cancer Institute. John Baillie, senior staff attorney with GASP, suggests that reducing plant emissions can lessen these effects of emissions in nearby communities.

The Clairton plant has been charged with more than $9 million in fines by Allegheny County for lack of compliance over several years.

The plant emits cancer-causing pollutants, including hydrogen sulfide and benzene. In 2019, the health department and U.S. Steel entered a settlement agreement to address the ongoing emissions problems and minimize the plant’s environmental impact.

The agreement required the company to pay more than $2 million in fines and invest $200 million in upgrades to the facility, including installing air curtains to capture emissions more efficiently and repairing the walls of the plant’s 10 coke oven batteries to prevent leaks.

Baillie says that the county’s health department added the settlement agreement to the permit to address violations from 2019, but U.S. Steel has failed to stop the violations from continuing, and that there has been an uptick in the frequency of emissions violations. He says he feels a compliance schedule is necessary to address these ongoing issues.

Additionally, the county fined U.S. Steel more than $307,000 for violating air pollution control regulations at Clairton Coke Works in the second quarter of 2022, bringing the total fines for 2022 to more than $750,000. Allegheny County previously fined U.S. Steel $458,225 for violating regulations at the same location in the first quarter of 2022.

More than $275,000, which is 90% of the penalties, will go to the Community Benefit Trust, while the Clean Air Fund will receive about $30,000 in remaining penalties. The Clean Air Fund is an organization dedicated to reducing air pollution and its impact on public health and the environment.

As of June 2022, the Community Benefit Trust had distributed more than $2.58 million to the residents of Clairton, Glassport, Liberty, Lincoln and Port Vue, the five communities surrounding the coke plant, providing much-needed assistance to the locals.

The Group Against Smog & Pollution anticipates that the EPA will issue a decision on its petition within the next six to eight months.

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.