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Mon Valley Residents Sound Off on Air Pollution, U.S. Steel During Virtual Rally

Longtime Clairton resident Cheryl Hurt on Friday asked people to imagine all the things they are worried about – the pandemic, the election, finances – and then add to that list the fear and anxiety that comes with wondering if the air you’re breathing is making you sick.

With everything that’s going on in the world, she said, that’s an additional burden Mon Valley residents must bear thanks to U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works.

Glassport resident David Meckle agreed.

“Even when it’s a nice sunny day, U.S. Steel manages to ruin it. We have to put up with low-grade headaches, eyes watering and a little burn in the nasal passages,” he said. “You have to be like a little turtle and go inside and hide. I’m not a turtle and I don’t like living in my shell.” 

Hurt and Meckle were among a slate of residents who spoke out at a virtual rally Friday co-hosted by a collaborative of environmental advocacy groups including GASP. Their message: Enough is enough – U.S. Steel and county officials must take decisive action to address unacceptable air quality exceedances.

The protest came in the wake of a seven-day stretch when concentrations of hydrogen sulfide (H2S) – a pollutant closely associated with coking operations – exceeded the state standard. So far this year, the H2S standard has been exceeded 23 times at the Liberty air quality monitoring site according to preliminary ACHD data.

Those exceedances coincided with increased temperatures and prolonged stagnant weather conditions that exacerbated industrial pollution problems. During this period, the concentration of fine particulate matter (PM 2.5) exceeded the federal health-based standard for three days in a row at the Liberty monitor in the Mon Valley and two days in a row at the Avalon monitor. emissions. 

This level of pollution places an unfair burden on the residents of Allegheny, including many who live in environmental justice communities that surround the Clairton Coke Works and Edgar Thomson Works operations. 

Of immediate concern: 

  • These incidents are occurring despite an ongoing pandemic where it is well-documented that increased particle pollution results in increased negative impacts on disease prevalence and outcomes. 
  • A recently published study shows children in Allegheny County living near major pollution sources had nearly triple the prevalence of asthma as compared with the national average rate of asthma in children. 
  • According to the American Lung Association, “First, short-term exposure to particle pollution can kill. Peaks or spikes in particle pollution can last from hours to days. Premature deaths from breathing these particles can occur on the very day that particle levels are high, or within one to two months afterward. Particle pollution does not just make people die a few days earlier than they might otherwise—these deaths would not have occurred so early if the air were cleaner.” 
  • Residents reported more than 1,300 odor complaints on the SmellPGH app during this Nov. 4-10 period of time because of the rotten-egg smell associated with emissions of hydrogen sulfide gas from coking operations. 

You can read more about the rally here:

Allegheny County Residents Demand Stronger Pollution Regulations for U.S. Steel Plant, published by StateImpact

After 7 Days of Exceedances, Mon Valley’s Air Pollution Still a Big Problem, published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

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