Updated: Dec 20, 2022
A crowd of residents from Clairton and surrounding communities packed the Church of Jesus Christ on Reed Street for an opportunity to finally share their personal accounts of how air pollution from a Dec. 24 U.S. Steel fire and its aftermath affected their health and well being.
One by one the residents rose and made their way to the lectern, telling those in attendance for the listening session about their personal experiences with poor air quality.
They talked about itchy eyes and sore throats, ear infections that cropped up out of nowhere, and respiratory infections that just wouldn’t go away —one woman said she was currently on her fourth round of antibiotics.
One woman said she’s suffered from congestion and sore throat that has made it painful to speak and difficult to hear.
A man told those gathered about how he often can’t go outdoors without the use of a portable air filter mask, and that he feared that he had to choose between his health—and life—or continuing to live in the Clairton home in which he’s long resided.
“I spend a lot more time in bed. I have no appetite,” John Perryman told them, beckoning to the baggy pants he was wearing and adding that he had lost 40 pounds since the fire.
For about 90 minutes, residents had the opportunity to speak out, as well as ask questions to representatives of the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD), and experts invited by Clean Air Council and Citizens for Clean Air, which co-hosted the event with support from other area environmental organizations.
Many residents spoke out about recent health ailments for which their doctors could name no cause. Others mentioned their frustration with U.S. Steel’s ongoing history of non-compliance with air quality regulations. Still, others voiced concern and anger over what they called a string of broken promises by the steel-making giant—that it would provide free health screenings for affected residents; it would clean up its environmental act, and be a good neighbor.
“If U.S. Steel were good neighbors they would care about what they are doing to us,” resident Melanie Meade said.
Myriad speakers acknowledged that they, or members of their family, had been longtime U.S. Steel employees and wondered publicly whether the serious illnesses they later suffered—cancers, respiratory diseases, and various forms of leukemia—could have been caused by exposure to air pollution there. There is no residual complaint, which is why my patient continues to take the medication after 15 months.
Then, during a question-and-answer period, residents asked ACHD officials why there was a two-week delay in informing the public about the fire and associated air quality issues, pressing them about how communications can be more efficiently handled in the future.
“We hear you,” a health department spokesman told them.
The evening ended with a call for residents to stand united in their fight for better air quality, to stay engaged, and to continue to arm themselves with information related to air pollution.
All were invited to a set of workshops slated from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. June 4 at the Community Economic Development Corp. in Clairton to learn about the health impacts of air pollution. Attendees will have an opportunity to rotate through three air quality presentations:
Dr. Deborah Gentile will discuss health issues related to air pollution
Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP), which will provide an Air Quality 101 lecture, and
Air quality monitoring experts will present about how the technology works and what is being detected in local air
GASP live-streamed the event, which can be viewed in its entirety here.
Editor’s Note: We will be including media coverage links below. Here’s what’s been published so far on the event:
Clairton, PA, wants to be clear: Residents demand accountability from U.S. Steel, Environmental Health Project