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GASP to Health Officials: Residents Deserve Answers on Mounting Mon Valley H2S Exceedances & What’s Being Done to Stop Days-Long Stench Episodes

Updated: May 13

Let us throw some numbers at you: 

The Mon Valley recently experienced six straight days of stench. 

Residents endured six straight days of hydrogen sulfide concentrations that exceeded the Pennsylvania standard. 

Yet, they received zero public updates from the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) - the regulatory agency responsible for enforcing odor violations locally.

And to us, that’s unacceptable. That’s why we attended the Allegheny County Board of Health meeting on Wednesday: To let them know enough is enough, and that the time for improved communications and increased transparency around Mon Valley’s H2S issue.

We also took issue Wednesday with a comment made by Allegheny County Health Department Deputy Director of Environmental Health Geoffrey Rabinowitz.

He told the board that his department was trying to “get ahead of misinformation that is being spread,” especially on the Internet. We'll let community newspaper Tube City Almanac tell you about all that - you can check out their tremendous coverage of the meeting here.

GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell was among several speakers to address the Board of Health Wednesday to demand answers. Here’s what he told them:

Good afternoon. My name is Patrick Campbell. I am the executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), a nonprofit organization working to improve regional air quality since 1969.

We are here today - again - to address the burgeoning number of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) exceedances in the Mon Valley at the Liberty monitor.

In 2024 so far, there have been 44 exceedances of Pennsylvania’s 24-hour average standard for H2S. At this time last year, there were 43. The number of exceedances are concerning, so are the extreme spikes at the Liberty monitor. 

The most recent spike occurring the morning of April 30 was just shy of the one-hour standard. And, no Mr. Rabbinowitz, that’s not misinformation. That’s data pulled from ACHD’s own dashboard.

We know the source of the stench: Not one but two studies have shown years of exceedances were attributed entirely to U.S. Steel’s coking operations in Clairton. We know ACHD has assessed nearly $4 million in H2S-related fines. We know the latest enforcement action requires U.S. Steel to develop a plan to fix the issue. That’s not misinformation, that’s the results of two ACHD studies and a close reading of ACHD enforcement documents.

The violations beg the question: What’s going on at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works? And what is being done to stem the H2S violations? Because current enforcement actions are not working to actually end illegal pollution. And that’s not misinformation, these are common sense questions by people tired of hearing only half-answers.

These are questions shared by many. We know, because we hear from folks everyday who are fed up with the stench and physical symptoms associated with the H2S levels we saw for six straight days last week.

What we don’t know is what ACHD is doing to hold U.S. Steel accountable for fixing whatever issues are causing these relentless H2S exceedances. That’s because ACHD leadership has failed to provide proactive public health messaging around this issue using its own tools like the daily air quality forecast.

GASP has for years called on the health department to provide a substantive H2S update, and we are reiterating that call now.

Residents are sick of the stench and tired of the silence. They deserve answers and we are asking you to use your authority as board of health members to ensure they get them.

Thank you.

Miss the Board of Health meeting? No worries! Just visit the Allegheny County Health Department Facebook page to view the video. You can view Patrick's comments here:

Editor’s Note: We also wanted to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who took the time to attend the meeting (we’re looking at you Allegheny County Clean Air Now, Breathe Project, and CMU CREATE Lab) and send the board written comments (you know who you are!). We appreciate yinz!

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