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Natrona Heights Slag Processor to Enclose Operations to Reduce Dust Pollution

We have blogged several times about dust pollution created by Harsco, Inc.’s facility in Natrona Heights, which processes slag from ATI Flat Rolled Products’ steel plant in Brackenridge. 

Dust from Harsco’s slag-handling activities regularly drifts out into the surrounding residential neighborhood that sits between Harsco’s operations and ATI’s plant, and lands on neighbors’ cars and other property, much to the neighbors’ chagrin.  

Fortunately, much of that fugitive dust pollution could soon be a thing of the past.

About The Dust Issue

The dust issue came to light in March of 2017, when the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) issued notice of violation letters to Harsco and ATI after inspectors noted dust on children’s toys, playground equipment, and cars in Opal Court on three separate occasions in February of 2017. The department ultimately determined the company was in violation of regulations regarding fugitive emissions.

Harsco in June of 2017 submitted an action plan to address the violations, committing to operational changes and enhanced training designed to mitigate those dust issues. 

Despite implementing that compliance plan, ACHD noted that residential complaints about dust deposits continued to pour in: Between May 2017 and May 2018, inspectors noted 13 days on which deposits of particulate matter from Harsco were discovered nearby—spurring the health department to issue another administrative order against the company May 29, 2018. That order required the company to submit and implement a compliance plan that would eliminate all fallout of particulate matter.

The Fix

Harsco tried to fix the issue with the installation of a spray header system that became fully operational on Aug. 6, 2018. Despite this, ACHD continued to receive complaints about fugitive dust from nearby residents. A subsequent investigation determined that particulate matter deposits were noted in the community on 20 days between July 2018 and Dec. 2019.

As a result, ACHD determined that the plan was not adequate—which led to the January 2020 agreement, which included a $107,000 civil penalty.

We are pleased to report that Harsco has done so. On April 15, ACHD published notice of a draft installation permit for an enclosure as well as new work practices at Harsco’s facility. 

What Happens Next?

Once the work required by the installation permit is completed, all of Harsco’s slag processing operations will be conducted inside a building. 

Further, Harsco will allow hot slag to cool in the air, rather than cool it by quenching it with water (dust can be created when water is poured or sprayed on hot slag). The company will further control the dust its operations create by spraying cooled slag with water while the slag is being crushed (spraying cooled slag with water during crushing helps limit the creation of dust).  

“It appears that as a result of the enclosure and new work practices, the allowable amount of dust emitted by Harsco’s operations will be reduced from just less than 8 tons per year to just less than 1 ton per year,” GASP senior attorney John Baillie explained. “Hopefully, the improvements to Harsco’s operations will bring the long-standing dust problem in Natrona Heights to an end.”

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