Updated: Sep 14
Editor’s Note: GASP on Aug. 26 delivered a petition signed by nearly 600 people and 16 local organizations calling for the Allegheny County Health Department to provide a substantive update on the ongoing emissions issues at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson plant.
After complaints from concerned citizens and clean air groups over an opaque, reddish-brown plume billowing from U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Plant on the evening of June 17, the Allegheny County Health Department agreed to investigate this incident – which the company said was due to a faulty valve – as well as high levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) detected near the Braddock facility a week later.
Unfortunately, as of the time of publication of this article, neither U.S. Steel nor ACHD has updated the public about steps being taken to address these recent incidents. This silence is all the more concerning in light of EPA data showing “high priority violations” over each of the past six quarters at Edgar Thomson, as well as Create Lab camera footage of the facility showing many instances of what are apparently heavy smoke emission episodes. One such incident appeared to have happened as recently as July 4.
But that’s not the only update owed to local residents: They’ve also been waiting for more than two and half years to learn the outcome of a Notice of Violation and Noncompliance the Allegheny County Health Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) delivered to U.S. Steel in November 2017 covering violations at its Edgar Thomson facility.
That notice stated that both ACHD and the EPA observed multiple violations of both county and federal rules at the Braddock facility from 2016 through July 2017.
A November 2017 ACHD press release regarding the NOV stated in part:
“The nature of the violations includes excessive visible emissions, failure to maintain equipment and failure to certify compliance with the plant’s Title V operating permit. To enhance the Health Department’s enforcement efforts, ACHD has actively engaged the EPA over the course of the last nine months. The EPA brings an expanded level of federal expertise, as well as additional enforcement capacity that will support stronger action by utilizing the Department of Justice and EPA’s capacity to enact more stringent penalties.”
ACHD officials at the time said the cooperative effort would maximize resources to ensure the plant got back into compliance.
In the release, then-ACHD director Dr. Karen Hacker said: “With EPA on board, our enforcement power is exponentially increased. These violations must stop*. U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Plant must come into compliance to improve the air quality for the health of all county residents. The health of our county is paramount*.”
The 2017 notice of violation was expected to begin the process of determining the necessary penalties and eventual equipment improvements that would return the plant to compliance with federal and county air quality pollution requirements. Yet, here we are in the second half of 2020, and still no report has been issued by ACHD or EPA even hinting at steps being taken toward resolving the issues.
The only available information on the progress of the compliance report – and what mitigation efforts will be undertaken by the steel-making giant to ensure that incidents like the ones on June 17 don’t happen again – is an ACHD “Compliance Status Report…current as of Jan. 1, 2020” indicating the Edgar Thomson Works is “Non-Compliant.”
In full, it reads:
“EPA worked with ACHD and issued a notice of violation on 11/9/2017; EPA (and DOJ), USS, and ACHD are working towards an agreement resolving multiple previous non-compliance issues. USS ET combusted non-compliant coke oven gas due to the USS Clairton fires which is a separate ongoing action.”
This lack of transparency is why the Group Against Smog and Pollution is calling on ACHD and the EPA to provide a more substantive update.
Because residents deserve better – and they’ve had enough.
“We live with red smoke, black smoke, hazy skies and burnt, industrial, rotten egg smells. Our sleep is disrupted and our eyes and noses are irritated. Long term exposure hurts our hearts, lungs and brains and makes us more susceptible to viruses,” North Braddock resident Edith Abeyta said. “We have been waiting for change with our windows closed. It is time for the Allegheny County Health Department and the Environmental Protection Agency to prioritize clean air so we can open our windows and go outside.”
GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini agreed.
“How much longer are our neighbors in Braddock and the surrounding communities expected to endure the conduct of U.S. Steel? How much longer will they be asked to trust the process?” she asked. “While people in the Mon Valley suffer from dirty air, U.S. Steel has been allowed to operate its Edgar Thomson facility unfettered for years even after a high-profile pronouncement from the health department that the issues there needed to stop.”
Filippini continued: “If ACHD and the EPA want people to feel like they are putting the health of residents first, they actually have to follow through and take a stand. We’re still waiting for that.”
Editor’s Note: Here are some helpful links and resources for those who’d like a refresher on the 2017 NOV:
The notice of violation document can be viewed here.
U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Mill on Notice for Air Pollution, Equipment Violations, by Don Hopey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
U.S. Steel’s Braddock Plant Cited for Pollution Violations, by Sarah Boden or WESA
U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Plant Cited Accused of Excessive Emissions, by Theresa Clift of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review