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Does the Mon Valley Have the Worst Air in PA? New Report Says Yes

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

A recent report published by Clean Water Action details the history of violations of the federal Clean Air Act standards in the Mon Valley over the past 12 years.

The results found air quality monitors in the Mon Valley recorded some of the worst air, not just in Allegheny County, but throughout Pennsylvania.

The report details the failure to protect Mon Valley residents from illegal levels of both sulfur dioxide and fine particles, or breathable soot.

More than 400 exceedances of federal standards for these types of air pollution have been recorded by air quality monitors in the Mon Valley since the EPA established the health-based standards in 2006.

“This report makes clear that both industry and government have failed to protect Mon Valley residents. When we know that this pollution, especially from U.S. Steel, is harming people, it should not take a decade to act. There is talk of how we are improving, but in 2018 the Mon Valley clearly had the worst air in Pennsylvania,” stated Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action.

Among the key findings of the study:

  1. There have been 402 exceedances of federal air quality standards for sulfur dioxide and fine particles at Mon Valley monitors since the standards were set in 2006 (for particles) and 2010 (for SO2).  This represents 91 percent of the exceedances in Allegheny County.

  2. In 2018, the Mon Valley recorded 18 exceedances for fine particle and sulfur dioxide standards. This is three times as many exceedances for the rest of the state combined.

  3. Mon Valley residents are older, poorer, and more likely to be African-American than residents living in other parts of Allegheny County. EPA has identified over 40 percent of Mon Valley residents as being in groups considered vulnerable to the health effects of breathing high levels of air pollution such as sulfur dioxide and fine particles.

The exceedances detailed in the report are for the daily fine particle standard and the one-hour sulfur dioxide standard. Violations of these short-term air quality standards are often the triggers for significant health events from asthma attacks to heart attacks.

EPA has estimated that the health care savings from complying with these standards are 2-5 times higher than the cost of implementing proper air pollution controls.

U.S. Steel announced recently that it is planning a large-scale investment in its Edgar Thompson Works in Braddock, and building a new power plant in Clairton utilizing coke oven gas.

The continued reliance on coke production at their Clairton Coke Works without a needed overhaul of the 20th century coke ovens does not suggest air quality improvements for Clairton, Clean Water Action said in a press release.

“While U.S. Steel has fixed fire damage at the Clairton Coke Works, this report makes clear that the long-standing pollution problems from US Steel remain to be tackled.  Simply burning coke oven gas for electricity will not protect residents from the many pollution sources at the Clairton Coke Works,” Arnowitt said.

He continued: “U.S. Steel has the resources to both produce steel and protect residents.  Why is the Mon Valley being left behind, when other industries and places have cleaned up?  This is an environmental injustice that has gone on for too many years and needs urgent action, not just business as usual.”

Editor’s Note: You can access the full report on the Clean Water Action website.

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