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GASP & Citizen Smoke Readers File Air Quality Complaints Over Emissions from Clairton Coke Works

Updated: Dec 7, 2022

Did you know that GASP assists residents in getting certified as citizen smoke readers to make observations of those worrisome neighborhood plumes?

Those smoke readers - aided by GASP’s longtime project manager Sue Seppi - have been out in force this fall to keep an eye on two of our area’s most egregious air polluters: U.S. Steel in the Mon Valley and Metalico in Neville Township.

For the uninitiated, citizen smoke readers are volunteers who are trained and certified to recognize and understand:

  • visible emissions from smokestacks

  • what opacity violations look like

  • and how to file reports with the Allegheny County Health Department

“Smoke reading is a great way for residents to take action in their own communities by observing the facilities that are of concern to them,” GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell said. “Observations by our volunteers increase regulatory scrutiny on polluters, as government inspectors can’t be at every facility at all times.”

And that was exactly the case following outings in September, October, and November when Sue went out to smoke read with GASP volunteers Melanie Meade and Erin Mallea (both of whom earned their certifications this year): High-opacity plumes emanating from U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works facility were observed and reported to ACHD on Sept. 28, Oct. 18, and Oct. 28.

Here’s what Sue reported to ACHD about the Clairton plumes following their last visit to the Mon Valley:

“The brownish plumes seem to be coming from the same area and fairly consistent over the time period I was there and at all three visits,” Seppi said in her report to ACHD. “What are these plumes that have been there on all three visits? This is quite a lot of smoke and we are always seeing it. Our question is what is the cause of these high opacity plumes--is it legal. I realize soaking may be legal but these plumes seem so persistent and not seen elsewhere except for the one mentioned. Please explain. Thank you.”

ACHD staff responded to the complaint to indicate the department was investigating. No further information was immediately available.

Sue was also helping a prospective smoke reader to prepare for Smoke School in the spring by reviewing procedures while observing plumes at Metalico Pittsburgh Neville Recycling. They noted some fairly high opacity plumes during this session. Here are some photos taken during their practice session and later submitted to ACHD:

Editor’s Note: Did you know a $65 donation covers the cost of one GASP smoke reading trip to #Clairton? You can support our watchdog efforts like these by making a donation here.

PS: Interested in becoming a smoke reader? Email for more information.

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