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Critics Not Holding Their Breath Over US Steel's Pledge To Improve Practices At Clairton Plant

Reid Frazier
StateImpact Pennsylvania
U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works, near Pittsburgh, Pa.

US Steel says it will replace equipment, hire more staff, improve training and increase monitoring at its Clairton Coke Works plant.

These changes are to comply with an orderissued by the Allegheny County Health Department back in June, which included a $1.1 million fine for chronic pollution at the Clairton facility, the largest coke plant in the country.

The department and corporation are still battling over the fine, which US Steel said in a letterto the county’s air quality program manager was not appropriate. But the corporation added that it’s making improvements at Clairton as a “good faith effort.”

George Jugovic, the vice president for legal affairs at PennFuture, a conservation organization, said US Steel has a long track record of not complying with the Clean Air Act.

“I can go back and show you hundreds of letters in Allegheny Health Departments files, tens of enforcement actions, consent decrees, court orders that US Steel has…entered into, promising that, ‘You know what, if we do this our facility will come into compliance with the law,’ and they never have,” said Jugovic.

Rachel Filippini, executive director of Group Against Smog and Pollution, said that some of the capital investments outlined by US Steel may result in significant air pollution reductions, but, "their full implementation is months to years away and people are suffering now."

Allen Robinson, a fine particulate matter researcher at Carnegie Mellon University, takes a more positive outlook, pointing out that in the last 20 years there have been dramatic improvements in air quality. He said the steps outlined by US Steel will help, “but not sure how much.”

The health department said it is reviewing the plan. If approved implementation must begin within 30 days.

Sarah Boden covers health and science for 90.5 WESA. Before coming to Pittsburgh in November 2017, she was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio. As a contributor to the NPR-Kaiser Health News Member Station Reporting Project on Health Care in the States, Sarah's print and audio reporting frequently appears on NPR and KFF Health News.