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Cheswick Generating Station Assessed $32K Civil Penalty for Emissions Issues

Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) has assessed a $32,280 civil penalty against GenOn Power Midwest, LP, for 13 exceedances of a daily emissions limit at its Cheswick Generating Station in Springdale.

The facility – the last remaining coal-fired electric generating plant in Allegheny County – is prohibited from emitting more than 3,176 pounds-per-hour of sulfur dioxide (SO2) on a daily average basis.

But between January 1, 2018, and March 31, 2019, GenOn exceeded its SO2 limit on 13 different days. Each of those instances is considered a separate violation of ACHD’s Air Pollution Control Regulations.

While the facility’s total SO2 emissions for all of 2018 were well below its annual permitted limit, individual daily exceedances can be a cause for concern.

Without an SO2 monitor near the facility, we can’t be certain if or to what extent the exceedances impacted air quality, but short-term exposures to SO2 can harm the human respiratory system and make breathing difficult. People with asthma, particularly children, are sensitive to these effects of SO2.

SO2 and other sulfur oxides can also react with other compounds in the atmosphere to form fine particles that reduce visibility (haze) in parts of the United States.

GenOn told ACHD that the exceedances were the result of a recycle pump failure on a scrubber after the pump was brought online following an extended time out of service.

“The spray nozzle(s) associated with the pump became clogged with lime crystallization and failed to control excess emissions,” the enforcement order noted. Repairs to that nozzle were completed on April 24, 2019.

ACHD indicated that GenOn did not initially disclose the violations in quarterly reports as required. The company also did not provide a required breakdown report detailing the pump failure that caused the SO2 exceedances as of July 30, 2020 – the date of the enforcement order.

You can view the entire enforcement order on the ACHD website.

Editor’s Note: The enforcement order was one of many that were published to the ACHD website on Aug. 13, 2020. One of those orders was issued to U.S. Steel regarding emissions issues at its Edgar Thomson facility. You can read more about an enforcement action against Pittsburgh Cremation Services and details related to myriad asbestos abatement-related orders here and here.

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