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EPA Expected to OK Air Quality Plan

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) says that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to conditionally approve the department's air quality improvement plan for the Liberty-Clairton area. The plan will decrease the area's fine particulate matter from 16 micrograms per cubic meter annually to the national standard of 15.

Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the ACHD, said that fine particulate matter is ultra-microscopic and invisible to the naked eye. "They can be readily inhaled deep into the lungs and cause and aggravate respiratory problems and cardiovascular distress as well," said Cole. "That's why there's an air quality standard for fine particulate matter. It's a health-based standard."

Emission reductions will come from construction of a new coke oven battery and rebuilding three existing batteries at the U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works.

The oven batteries bake coal into coke, an essential ingredient in the steel making process. "It's heated in ovens at extremely high temperatures, and it's a process that does tend to produce some emissions," Cole said. "But the new coke oven batteries are much cleaner than the older ones."

He said that the plant will also replace two existing quench towers with new ultra-low emission ones. Quench towers emit vapors that are released from the cooling of coke.

The pollution controls should be in place by December 2013, so there would be a full year of air quality data to collect in 2014 to show anticipated attainment of the national standard.

Cole said that the approval is conditional on the department re-evaluating its air modeling to show compliance with the federal Cross State Air Pollution Rule. He said that the rule limits the amount of air pollution that crosses state lines. "When you're dealing with fine particulate matter, it can travel hundreds of miles. It's almost like a gas, and can travel great distances," Cole said.

He said that the department is now working on its next plan to bring the Liberty-Clairton area into compliance with a newer 24-hour fine particulate matter standard. The plan is due by December 2012.