Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to include the statement of Allegheny County Chief Executive Rich Fitzgerald, as well as updates from the health department and U.S. Steel.
The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) announced in a press release Monday afternoon that it had issued an emergency order requiring U.S. Steel to come into compliance with its hydrogen sulfide (H2S) standard and sulfur dioxide (SO2) limits.
U.S. Steel must submit a plan within 24 hours to ACHD as to how this will be achieved. The company will then have up to 20 days to achieve compliance. If these requirements are not met, the company will have to cease all coking operations.
The complete order can be viewed here.
At approximately 4:20 a.m., an electrical equipment fire forced a shutdown of control rooms 2 and 5 at the Clairton Coke Works. These control rooms hold the equipment and controls necessary to clean the coke oven gases, and they are the same two control rooms that were immediately shut down following the December 24, 2018 fire. As these control rooms remain offline, there is no means for desulfurization of the coke oven gas.
ACHD staff have notified local and state elected officials and have contacted school nurses and pediatricians in the Mon Valley. Additionally, staff will be monitoring emergency room visits in the Mon Valley. As of 12 p.m. today, there have been no elevated SO2 levels at any of the air quality monitors in the Mon Valley.
“It’s important to understand that there is no need for individuals to take specific precautions at this time. Residents should be aware of the potential for elevated SO2 levels,” the department said in the release.
In a statement made on the Facebook page for the Office of the Allegheny Chief Executive, Rich Fitzgerald said:
“I‘m very disappointed that this is happening again. People in this community need assurance that the pollution control equipment is reliable and usable. Organizations with critical systems like hospitals have to ensure that there are redundancies and back-ups.
U.S. Steel shouldn’t be any different.I implore U.S. Steel to use all due speed to get this fixed as soon as possible and to take immediate steps to put in a back-up system for their operations. The health of the people of Clairton and surrounding communities, and the U.S. Steel employees, is too important to do otherwise.
I commend Dr. Hacker and the Health Department for taking quick action and issuing an emergency order for U.S. Steel to address this now. I urge them to continue pushing the company to do what is necessary today to protect the health of our residents.”
On Monday night, U.S. Steel tweeted that crews had completed repairs following the fire and that “at this time, normal operations have resumed, and we have successfully restored the desulfurization process.”
On Tuesday, ACHD announced in a press release that inspectors had been on-site at U.S. Steel and were able to confirm that the desulfurization process was back online.