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PennFuture Campaign to Engage Residents in Telling U.S. Steel to Improve Clairton Coke Works

Updated: Dec 15, 2022

Editor’s Note: We wanted to make sure everyone saw this new campaign from our friends at PennFuture. The below blog was taken from a press release the group put out earlier this week.

PennFuture this week launched its Toxic Neighbor campaign to engage citizens in telling U.S. Steel three ways to improve Clairton Coke Works:

  1. Retire Clairton Coke Works’ oldest, dirtiest and most problematic coke batteries, which are Batteries 1, 2 and 3

  2. Modernize Clairton Coke Works by investing in technologically advanced upgrades to ensure better air quality and Mon Valley jobs, now and in the future

  3. Commit to public transparency about plant operations, especially in cases of emergency

The Toxic Neighbor Campaign launched on Monday, March 25, 2019, with bus shelter, print, and digital advertising. The campaign’s call-to-action is for citizens to visit to sign a petition and/or contact U.S. Steel directly to make the company accountable for the air pollution coming from the Clairton Coke Works.

“We created the Toxic Neighbor Campaign as a way for those most affected by the pollution created by the Clairton Coke Works to add their voices to our demands of U.S. Steel,” said Jacquelyn Bonomo, president and chief executive officer of PennFuture. “These are not extreme measures. We are presenting reasonable and rational solutions to the decades-old problems of poor air quality and unhealthfulness. We are advocating for plant improvements that will address toxic pollution and allow industrial jobs to continue into the future.”

State Rep. Austin Davis also weighed in.

“As the state representative of the 35th legislative district, I am committed to the well-being of families. I believe we can have both clean air and good jobs, but one cannot take precedence over the other. It will take a collaborative effort to accomplish this goal, but I’m confident it can be done so that the Mon Valley and its residents can prosper,” Davis said.

The launch of the Toxic Neighbor Campaign is timed to coincide with a March 24, 2019 benchmark in a March 2016 consent judgment between Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) and U.S. Steel. That agreement requires U.S. Steel to certify that it has complied with the judgment’s terms, including addressing problem batteries at the Clairton Coke Works.

The consent judgment was associated with a January 2015 PennFuture legal action. Retire Batteries 1, 2 and 3.

“Retiring Batteries 1, 2 and 3 at the Clairton Coke Works—which is the country’s oldest coke plant— would have a real and measurable impact on pollution. Batteries 1, 2 and 3—which have a shelf life of 50 to 60 years—date from the mid-1950s,” Bonomo said. “These oldest batteries are subject to many stringent regulations but have performed unreliably for years. By replacing Batteries 1, 2 and 3, U.S. Steel would both resolve its compliance issues associated with these batteries and improve air quality in the Pittsburgh region.”

Rachel Filippini, executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, said it’s time for U.S. Steel to invest in modernizing the facility.

“U.S. Steel has struggled with compliance for decades and if it breaks air pollution laws it is the community that ultimately suffers by way of increased asthma and heart attacks, strokes, cancer and premature death,” she said. “A pledge by U.S. Steel to close the dirtiest batteries and invest in modernizing the facility would go a long way in showing their commitment to the community’s health and prosperity.”

Modernize Clairton Coke Works

In 2012, U.S. Steel replaced three 1950s-era Clairton batteries with a new “C-Battery,” resulting in a significant decrease in small particulate matter (PM2.5). At that time U.S. Steel also committed to replacing Batteries 1, 2, and 3 with another updated battery—sometimes referred to as D-Battery—but changed plans, saying the company couldn’t afford it.

Instead, it installed two less-expensive low-emission quench towers as a trade-off.

“The excuse of not being able to afford upgrades at Clairton Coke Works no longer flies,” said Bonomo. “U.S. Steel reported 2018 adjusted net earnings of $957 million, compared to $341 million in 2017. The company is investing $750 million in modernizing its Gary, Indiana operation and $215 million in restarting construction on a technologically-advanced steelmaking facility in Fairfield, Alabama. These same investments are needed in the Mon Valley to ensure a better future for our communities and our air, and would mean job security for industry workers.”

The Clairton Coke Works has a legacy of pollution and operational problems. Most recent was the 2018 Christmas Eve fire that confined nearby residents to their homes due to the toxic air conditions it produced. Nine sulfur dioxide exceedances occurred at two air monitor locations.

“The huge increase in pollution by U.S. Steel since the recent fire at the Clairton Coke Works is just the latest failure by this company to comply with clean air standards that most of the country now enjoys. The Mon Valley and Pittsburgh deserve better,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action. “If U.S. Steel commits to making much-needed investments in Clairton, then we can see both continued employment and healthy air that can protect our kids and our grandparents.”

Although U.S. Steel hastened to expedite post-fire repairs, air quality in Clairton and Pittsburgh continued to deteriorate for weeks. The Allegheny County Health Department issued its second enforcement order in less than a year on February 28, 2019.

“Based on the Health Department’s February enforcement order, U.S. Steel emitted 74,100 pounds per day of sulfur dioxide on January 29, 2019. That level is 35 times what it was before the fire. That is the weight of three school buses of emissions on one day,” said Matthew Mehalik, executive director of the Breathe Project. “If these figures are representative of what is being produced, that means that U.S. Steel is emitting the same amount of pollution every 10.5 days as what it would emit in a year prior to the accident.”

Commit to Transparency

U.S. Steel has taken steps to improve its relationship with Clairton Coke Works stakeholders and community members. It created a website——which is updated regularly. The company provides the Health Department with weekly reports, and Clairton public officials have been attending weekly meetings with representatives from Clairton Coke Works.

However, the community isn’t yet satisfied.

“You don’t need to tell me to plant more trees to improve the air. You shouldn’t be telling me what to do to fix the problem that U.S. Steel has created. That’s U.S. Steel’s problem. My community needs a grocery store,” said Clairton Deputy Mayor Richard Ford. “I have lost a grandfather, a father, a sister, a daughter, and a son to cancer. I’m not saying it’s all U.S. Steel, but it needs to invest the money to fix those old batteries now to improve our community.”

About The Toxic Neighbor Campaign

The campaign is intended to raise awareness in the region of ongoing issues at Clairton and encourage citizen action—by signing the petition to U.S. Steel and/or contacting U.S. Steel directly—to improve air quality.

U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works affects the 37,000 people living within a three-mile radius of the plant. However, its pollution does not remain stagnant—it travels, impacting other areas of the county and city, especially Pittsburgh’s East End.

Campaign ads appear at area bus shelters and in print and digital media. Community members are encouraged to spread the word about the campaign using social media and the hashtag #toxicneighbor.

The Toxic Neighbor Campaign, which runs for two months beginning March 25, is targeted to residents as well as civic and community leaders. PennFuture launched the campaign with the support of members of the Breathe Project.

For more information, visit

“U.S. Steel has been a Toxic Neighbor for decades, but unfortunately things have only gotten worse in recent years. By putting profits before public health, U.S. Steel exposed residents to dangerous pollution,” said Zachary Barber, field organizer with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center. “If it wants to kick its reputation as a Toxic Neighbor, U.S. Steel must listen to leaders and community members and make these investments to clean up the conditions at the Clairton plant.”

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