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U.S. Steel’s Appeals Clairton Coke Enforcement Order; Latest Skirmish in Decades-Long Fight

Updated: Dec 9, 2022

On June 28, 2018, the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) fined U.S. Steel approximately $1.1 million for multiple violations of air pollution regulations at its Clairton Coke Works.

The enforcement action also includes a provision for the closure of two of the facility’s older batteries of ovens if certain emissions limits are not met. According to the enforcement order, Clairton Coke “continues to experience ever-increasing visible emissions and unexplained exceedance.” (Full text of the enforcement order here.)

U.S. Steel is appealing the enforcement action, and a public hearing on the matter will be scheduled soon. In light of this latest action, we took a look through some boxes in our closet here and put together a series of articles that show both U.S. Steel’s decades-long battle with regulators and Clairton Coke’s air pollution issues. Please click on the links to see the relevant articles.

Newsweek, 2/21/72: “Spurred on by GASP,” PA & the County file suit to force Clairton’s compliance with health regulations. “Harold Mallik, U.S. Steel vice president for environmental control, answered that ‘there is no way to bring the works into compliance.’”

Pittsburgh Press, 3/23/73: Health Department says Clairton Coke is violating consent decrees & exceeding emissions limits by ~40%. GASP considers suing if air pollution laws aren’t enforced.

Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, in a case featuring Pennsylvania and Allegheny County vs. U.S. Steel, 5/23/73: Even lawsuits aren’t enough sometimes, as a judge agrees that “The easiest decision to make in this case, since the violations are obvious, is to hold the defendant in contempt and impose the sanction recommended by the plaintiffs” but then chooses to NOT do so.

Environmental Action, 9/25/76: U.S. Steel says it only invests for profit, not to reduce air pollution. EPA cites “substantial compliance problems” at 17 of U.S. Steel’s 20 major steel-making facilities & “a record of environmental recalcitrance which is second to none.”

Pittsburgh Press, 4/21/77: Levels of the carcinogen benzo[a]pyrene found to be highest in the nation around Clairton Coke.

McKeesport Daily News, 11/11/88: U.S. Steel plans to reopen two coke batteries. VP of Environmental Affairs says GASP & others concerned about increasing already-horrific level of benzene in Liberty Borough (over 19 parts per billion) “are probably overreacting.”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/26/89: EPA finds greatest cancer risk in from industrial plants in whole nation comes from Clairton Coke. U.S. Steel VP of Environmental Affairs for Steel Division casts doubt on findings, asking “Who has counted the bodies of casualties in the communities?”

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/26/91: EPA and Justice Dept. ask court’s permission to shut down Clairton Coke until facility complies with air pollution standards; levies potential fines of over $6 million.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/20/93: U.S. Steel pays $1.8M to settle lawsuits related to releasing raw coke oven gas & quenching coke with contaminated water.

And on up until the present. We thank the Allegheny County Health Department for the recent enforcement action and urge them to continue enforcing the law until these problems end. Learn more about the recent fine and context here. GASP will attend U.S. Steel’s hearing and hope you will too–we’ll send out details of that meeting as soon as we know them.

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