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Mystery Plume(s) from U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works Prompt GASP to Demand Answers, Accountability

Today, GASP is calling on the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) to provide a public update regarding possible opacity violations at U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works facilities, what’s causing them, and what it’s doing to stem the issue.

Here’s what’s going on:

GASP’s volunteer smoke readers (more on those here) have been back in the Mon Valley, with stops in Clairton and Braddock to observe emissions from U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works and Edgar Thompson facilities.

Those observations have noted a familiar and disconcerting scene: some nasty brownish plumes coming from the Clairton Coke Works.

Over the past several months, GASP staff - and longtime volunteer Melanie Meade of Clairton - did what watchdogs do: We reported the plumes - and the stench of rotten eggs - to the Allegheny County Health Department, our local air quality regulator.

We also provided ACHD a heads-up about some high-opacity smoke and industrial odors emanating from the Edgar Thomson facility.

In response to these official complaints, ACHD said the department is “currently looking into the photos and investigating to determine if an enforcement action(s) is/are warranted.”

GASP then received this response to a subsequent report about the troublesome plumes and what their investigation discovered:

“We have been in contact with the facilities regarding the possible sources of visible emissions and odors. We are continuing to inspect the Clairton facility and take enforcement actions for alleged violations of our regulations.”

With regard to the visible emissions and odors observed at the Edgar Thomson plant, ACHD believes that “actions to be taken under the proposed Consent Decree will alleviate these emissions and odors.” Stay tuned for a GASP investigation into whether or not U.S. Steel met the obligations set forth in that consent decree.

But back to those plumes…

We think it’s important to reiterate that these brown plumes of smoke billowing from the U.S. Steel facility are concerning not only because of their high opacity but because of their frequency.

Numerous complaints have been made. The time for a substantive update from ACHD is now.

“In this information vacuum, the community suffers,” GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell said. “Industrial emissions harm public health. Full stop. Allegheny County residents need - and deserve - action and transparency from their air quality regulators and trust that they are working to stem whatever is causing these brown plumes and associated stench.”

Editor’s Note: The ACHD enforcement docket shows the last emissions-related enforcement action levied against U.S. Steel was in March 2022.

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