GASP to BOH: Allegheny Co. Health Dept. Failed Residents During July Outages at Clairton Coke Works
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
GASP joined fellow environmental advocates Wednesday to again send a message to the Allegheny County Board of Health: The health department’s public outreach in the wake of July power outages at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works lacked transparency and empathy and failed residents concerned about their health.
Here’s what GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell told the board in his comments:
I’m here to highlight ACHD’s failed public response to the July outages at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works and its continued failure to demonstrate meaningful transparency and empathy to Allegheny County residents – especially people living in environmental justice communities.
The July 4 power outage at the Clairton Coke Works was no minor incident as the emergency procedure required flaring of coke oven gases and resulted in the release of 11.6 tons of sulfur dioxide. The only response from ACHD to date was one Allegheny Alerts sent the morning of July 4 stating “it is believed that the power outage will either not affect or only minimally affect plant emissions.”
Like the fires in 2018 and 2019, this is one more incident where ACHD had an opportunity and obligation to provide up-to-date information to let the public know what was going on and squandered it.
You’ll see the on-the-ground, real-time images of what it looked like that morning to people living near the Clairton Coke Works. Imagine what it was like to open your doors on that morning to that scene and wonder what on earth was going on and whether you needed to evacuate to protect your family.
Further details emerged only after GASP filed a right-to-know law request to get a fuller picture of what occurred July 4. The documents revealed there were actually two outages – one on July 2 and a second on July 4.
Both were caused by electric issues and it took U.S. Steel 41 hours to get the facility back online following that second outage.
That’s why GASP is, again, asking ACHD to provide residents with answers to questions like:
“Why weren’t more updates shared with the public despite the Coke Works being offline for 41 hours?”
“What are the significant electrical issues at the Clairton Coke Works?”
“Were the July 2 and July 4 incidents connected? If so, had U.S. Steel taken action on July 2, could the second outage have been prevented?”
“What’s being done to prevent power outages like the ones that knocked pollution control equipment offline from happening again?”
Use your oversight authority to demand that ACHD transparently communicate with the public to restore residents’ trust in them.
The meeting’s public comment period also included powerful testimony from Ana Hoffman of
Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATELab, who showed the board still images and video of the Clairton Coke Works during the outage – media that showcased flares blazing and huge plumes of dark smoke spewing from the facility.
And she reiterated the importance of transparency, demanding answers from health officials.
In other business:
The board voted to approve a revision to its air quality regulations that will impose a new set of “Reasonably Available Control Technology” (RACT) requirements on major sources of oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in Allegheny County. Because this is the third time new RACT rules have been required, they are referred to as “RACT III.” We have an explainer about RACT III on our blog.
The board also voted to approve final revisions to Allegheny County’s Coke Oven regulations. You can read GASP’s comments and learn more about those here.
The next Allegheny County Board of Health meeting is tentatively scheduled for Nov. 2.