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Deadline to Speak Out on Proposed Coke Oven Regulations Quickly Approaching

Editor’s Note: The public comment period for Allegheny County’s draft coke oven regulations closed as of 4 p.m. Jan. 21.

Time is running out to weigh in on proposed revisions to Allegheny County’s coke oven regulations – rules the health department hopes will reduce certain air pollutants emanating from U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works as well as clarify inspection procedures.

As Mon Valley residents know all too well, emissions from coke ovens have been a primary source of our local air pollution for decades. 

While GASP and fellow clean air groups have long called on the Allegheny County Health Department to retool them, it’s imperative that ACHD and U.S. Steel hears from the people who are most impacted by emissions and malodors from the plant: You. 

Fortunately, there is ample opportunity for you to speak out: ACHD is accepting public comments on the draft regulations through 4 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21. The department will also accept oral testimony at a public hearing slated for 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 20.

GASP wants to make speaking out as simple as possible for you: On our blog, you can get the skinny on the draft revisions, access sample language for your comments that you can copy-and-paste or add to, as well as a simple form that will automatically route your message to the Allegheny County Health Department.

You can check all of that out here.

“We want to extend a big thank you to all the folks who already submitted their comments, and encourage those who’ve been impacted by emissions from Clairton Coke Works not to sit this one out,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said. “We also want to encourage those who have submitted written comments to also sign up to testify at the public hearing.”

She added: “U.S. Steel has often tried to stack the deck when it comes to public testimony at these types of hearings. Don’t let them drown out the voices that most need to be heard.”

Remember: You don’t have to be an expert on all things coke ovens in order to speak out. Regulators (i.e. ACHD), the regulated community (i.e. U.S. Steel), and watchdog groups like GASP might know the technical details and understand the underlying rules, limits, and regulations but we aren’t on the frontlines – YOU are.

And that gives you your own brand of expertise.

REMEMBER: People wishing to present verbal testimony at the hearing must register through Zoom at least 24 hours in advance of the virtual hearing – which means you must sign up by 5 p.m. today, Tuesday Jan. 19. Testimony is limited to three minutes.  

Need a little inspiration? Check out what some of your neighbors had to say about the new coke oven regulations and then complete the form below:

“I am old enough to remember growing up in Swissvale when at noon red noxious emissions from Carrie Furnace would enter the air and we kids would have to hurry up and take our clothes off the clothesline☹️ Now, I live on a mountain ravaged by coal mines in earlier centuries looking down on toxic emissions from the USS Clairton Works.☹️ When will these environmental injustices stop?” – JL

“We citizens of Allegheny County rely on the ACHD to take all stands to ensure that the air we breathe is clean and healthy. The Proposed Coke Oven Regulation Revisions will limit the sulfur content of coke oven gas is likely to help reduce the concentration of sulfur compounds – including both SO2 and H2S – and to improve our health standards. Does it go far enough to make sure our air is cleaned up? Probably not, but it’s a move in the right direction. Please act in the best interest of Allegheny County citizens, and avoid the temptation to enact policy designed to maximize profits for local industry. “ – KP

“I am a long term resident of Allegheny County and suffer from the below average air quality. Clariton Coke is one of the main culprits and should either be shut down or forced to comply with existing or updated regulations. The usual economic arguments to maintain the status quo have been disproven over and over again. Please take action now!” – RN

“I am a long time resident of Allegheny county with experience living in the east end communities (Shadyside, Oakland and Squirrel Hill). The time for Pittsburgh to address the Clariton coke pollution issues is long overdue. Year after year we have waited for action on this important health issue. I have been using the “smell Pittsburgh” app to log air quality issues and NEAR HALF of summer days I can smell the Sulfer/rotten egg small. It was especially acute this past summer- and seems to be GETTING WORSE, NOT BETTER! It is not just a smell but rather the feeling of burning sensation from breathing the air on those days that prompts me to keep children indoors rather than play outside which would otherwise be the healthier option. Important improvements have occurred in western Allegheny county with the clean up and shutdown of the Neville Island industrial polluters. I would like to see equivalent action taken for the East end communities which have long suffered with the smell and unnecessary health hazards from the Clariton coke emissions. PLEASE TAKE ACTION NOW – IT IS ALREADY LONG OVERDUE!” – DN

“Please do everything in your power to regulate air pollution from the coke works! I live in Whitehall. We have lots of trees around our house, but still have issues with intense, toxic smelling air at least once a week and lately, several times a week, usually late at night or in early morning. We bought two big air cleaners and I wear masks to let the dogs out. Yes, it’s that bad sometimes because I’ve had asthma attacks from it. I talk about moving all the time as I’ve had less problems breathing while visiting in bigger cities. I’ve lived in over 20 places in Pittsburgh and this is by far the worst in air quality! My husband reports it to an app every time. He’s lived here for over 25yrs and says it’s getting worse.” – SG

“ACHD, I am a Munhall resident and have just learned about your plans for revisions to the coke oven regulations at Clairton Coke. Works. What are you doing to ensure the health and safety of Mon Valley Residents? We live with the ill effects of this industry daily. There are many days when I cannot even be outdoors at my own home. Not the quality of life the health department should want for County residents. I would love some assurance that these proposed updates will provide an improvement to the air quality in the Mon Valley. Thanks.” – VB

“Dear ACHD, I didn’t grow up in Pittsburgh – I moved here from eastern PA for college and decided to stay because I liked it here so much. However, with the COVID-19 pandemic, my job, like many others in the region, has shifted to a full-time remote position and is expected to remain that way. Despite how much I like Pittsburgh, as a person who also loves spending time outdoors biking and running, I’m not sure I can justify staying here any more because the air quality is so poor. Why should I live here when I can move anywhere else in the country and not have to deal with this disgusting air? I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling this way about this city that I like so much. I’m so tired of walking outside in the morning and smelling that awful sulfur smell. I’m tired of getting an itchy throat and watery eyes several days each month while exercising outdoors. I’m worried that when I decide to have children, raising them here will mean subjecting them to increased asthma risks and lung complications. I think Pittsburgh is a beautiful city but so many days of the year are ruined by horrible air pollution. Add to that the poor water quality and excessive amounts of litter everywhere and one has to ask, why should I stay in Pittsburgh if all that matters to the government is US Steel, not me? Please put out stronger air quality regulations and enforce them. If not, many people, myself included, will have little justification for staying in this city much longer.” – AB

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