USA: Experts Say U.S. Steel factory near Pittsburgh violating health standards; incl. company response

Following a factory fire in December 2018, pollution alerts have gone out to communities in Clairton near two US Steel plants near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Allegheny county (where Clairton is located) has some of the worst air quality in the United States. The childhood asthma rate in Clairton is above 22%, more than twice the state average and nearly three times the national average. Pollution is disproportionately affecting young and elderly people, particularly in black communities.

The Allegheny Health Department has said that U.S. Steel has "grossly violated standards" and has fined US Steel $700,000 for continued pollution from its three local factories. Environmental groups also intend to file a lawsuit against US Steel over continuing noncompliance with the federal Clean Air Act. U.S. Steel has also been accused of sending a public warning about the potential impacts of the December 2018 fire too late, after negative health impacts had already surfaced among local residents. Some union workers and local politicians have advocated for keeping the plants open while repairs are made due to high unemployment and poverty rates in the area.

We invited U.S. Steel to respond to allegations regarding pollution and negative health impacts; response provided below.

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22 April 2019

People are getting sick from a US steel factory that is “grossly violating” health standards, experts say

Author: Dan Vergano, BuzzFeed News

Many towns are facing public health consequences of fossil fuels. But Clairton’s pollution crisis has unique political stakes — pitting the behemoth US Steel... against environmentalists and local health officials... As US Steel racks up pollution violations, the most high-profile young politician in the Keystone State, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, has stood in front of the Clairton plant backed by hard-hatted union workers to voice support for keeping it running — and exceeding pollution limits — while it is repaired... US Steel filed a short accident report [following the Dec 2018 fire], but kept the plant running despite health department pollution monitors recording sulfur dioxide levels topping federal safety standards.

... At the end of February, the county health department, which is charged with enforcing EPA pollution limits, told US Steel to cut its sulfur emissions from all three of its Mon Valley facilities below federal limits... In response, US Steel said it was accelerating completion of all repairs from mid-May to April 15, due to early delivery of specially fabricated parts... [According to] Meade, a clean air activist in Clairton... it was simply incredible that a factory with a long history of pollution was still running day and night months after its pollution controls had burned down. “If this was going on in a place with medium- or high-income people, there’s no way the plant would keep running.”

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Company response
21 April 2019

Response from U.S. Steel

U.S. Steel is pleased to announce that we are now desulfurizing 100% of the coke oven gas generated at our Clairton Plant. While we employed many effective mitigation measures after a fire on Dec. 24 caused catastrophic damage to the facility, we are now able to operate the state-of-the-art desulfurization plant again. This is an important milestone in our repair efforts and we will continue to monitor and adjust coking times as appropriate. These repairs were completed well ahead of our estimated timeline thanks to the hard work and dedication of our employees, the leadership of the United Steelworkers, our contractor partners and the members of the Building & Construction Trades. Throughout this process, the safety of our workforce and the surrounding community has been a top priority. While the fire was an unfortunate setback, we remain committed to improving our shared environment.

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