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UPDATED | Smoke & Flames at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Plant, More H2S Exceedances Punctuate Need for Regulators to Update Public on 2017 Notice of Violation, Compliance Timeline

A Braddock resident on Thursday morning said she heard what sounded like a military jet flying low overhead, and looked out the window to see U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson plant belch out a billowing plume of thick, black smoke. Afterward, she noted what she described as a weird odor, and contacted GASP to ask what had happened.

GASP’s resident smoke reader and longtime project manager Sue Seppi snapped into action, reviewing Breathe Cam footage of the facility, noting that thick black smoke and flames were visible around 10:15 a.m. that Thursday, Aug. 19.

Then on Saturday and Tuesday, the Mon Valley experienced two more exceedances of Pennsylvania’s 24-hour standard of 0.005 ppm for hydrogen sulfide (AKA H2S, also known by its pungent rotten-egg odor). 

That makes 35 such exceedance at the Liberty monitor so far this year. There have been 12 others in North Braddock.

These two latest incidents again underscore the need for local and federal regulators to be transparent with the public about what exactly is going on at U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works in general and its Edgar Thomson plant specifically.

“The Coke Works was the subject of an H2S-related enforcement action just this past April, while it’s been almost four years since the EPA and ACHD initiated enforcement action against the company for ongoing emissions issues at the Braddock facility,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said. “Despite these ongoing and sometimes high-profile incidents, regulators have remained tight-lipped while residents continue to suffer from malodors and more.”

What *do* we know about what happened with this latest incident at Edgar Thomson? Only what WESA reported on Friday after seeing one of GASP’s tweet about the matter and asking some questions to U.S. Steel and ACHD:

“Unfortunately, this lack of transparency has been par for the course when it comes to incidents at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson plant. The public is still waiting to know what happened with a 2017 Notice of Violation filed against the company by the health department and the EPA,” Filippini said. “That was supposed to be the first step in the process of getting the facility back into compliance with air quality regulations, but residents have heard nothing since then.”

Hundreds of residents last year joined GASP in demanding ACHD release a substantive public update regarding what upgrades, maintenance, and management changes, and fines U.S. Steel would be facing.  A health department official at the time said in an email response to the Post-Gazette:

“Due to [the] current case initiated and ongoing by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency involving U.S. Steel in which the Allegheny County Health Department is a co-plaintiff, ACHD will not be commenting on this matter.”

 

So we hope you will join us now in calling for transparency and accountability when it comes to the Mon Valley’s most egregious air polluter and sign our petition to the EPA. 

“How many more incidents do we have to deal with before we get some answers?” Filippini asked. “Nearly four years is far too long to keep the public in the dark about something that impacts people’s health and quality of life.”

Petition | Tell EPA: Public Deserves Transparency Regarding Emissions Issues at U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson Plant & Timeline, Plan for Compliance

The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) and the undersigned are calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to provide a substantive public update regarding ongoing and egregious emissions episodes at U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works, as well as detailed information about when - and how - the facility will be forced to comply with local and federal air quality regulations.

It’s been nearly four years since ACHD and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency filed a joint Notice of Violation (NOV) against U.S. Steel for repeated emissions issues at the plant. It was supposed to be the first step in getting the plant back into compliance with both county and federal air quality regulations.

Acknowledging that ongoing emissions issues there present a public health risk, ACHD and EPA indicated back in 2017 that in the wake of the NOV would be a plan detailing what financial penalties would be assessed against U.S. Steel, as well as what equipment and operational upgrades would be required to bring Edgar Thomson back into compliance.

The public has waited long enough for an update on this public health issue, which is of paramount importance to the communities surrounding the plant, the communities downwind of it - and everyone in between.

When it comes to showing the most-affected communities that it prioritizes air quality as a public health issue, EPA officials need to understand that the time for lip service is over. Residents need information and action now.

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