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After Sighting Black Smoke And Flames, Environmental Groups Ask Authorities To Address Air Pollution In Braddock

Gene J. Puskar

A plume of black smoke and flames were spotted at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson works in Braddock on Thursday morning. The event prompted concern from local environmental groups about how the incident could affect air quality in the region.

According to U.S. Steel, the plume came from safety relief valves on top of the blast furnace. The safety valves prevent the blast furnace from becoming over-pressurized. The company said the valves were activated by “wet raw materials due to the heavy rainfall.”

A spokesperson for U.S. Steel said equipment was not damaged and that there was no safety risk for employees or the surrounding community. The company said regional air quality monitors did not see changes in some of the most common types of air pollution, including particulate matter (PM2.5).

Environmental group GASP Pittsburgh said it wants U.S. Steel and the Allegheny County Health Department to take community concerns around air pollution more seriously.

“This lack of transparency… is very frustrating for people that have to live with the brunt of this pollution day in and day out,” said Rachel Filippini, the executive director of GASP Pittsburgh. “People deserve to have answers, they deserve to know what caused it and how it will be addressed. And ultimately, how can they know that it’s not going to happen again?”

In a statement, Chris Togneri, a spokesperson for the Allegheny County Health Department said the agency is “in contact with US Steel to determine the cause of the plumes and whether any follow-up action is required.”

Togneri said the department investigates all complaints and concerns. Residents can report any air quality concerns to the Health Department online.

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at