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GASP Joins Breathe Collaborative Partners in Response to Bombshell Media Reports About U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works Maintenance, Fire

GASP on Friday joined our friends and partners at the Breathe Project in responding to bombshell media reports published in Allegheny Front and Public Source Friday analyzing court documents that show that U.S. Steel allowed its Mon Valley operations to fall into disrepair at the expense of the health of local residents.

You can – and should – read the series (links to all of them are at the bottom of this story), which sheds more light on what exactly caused the 2018 Christmas Eve fire that left the Clairton Coke Works without key air pollution controls for three months. The authors lay out documents that show how the 2018 fire itself started after a series of malfunctioning pieces of equipment and that equipment appeared not to be getting inspected regularly. 

Another thing the two news publications focused on: Depositions of key Allegheny County Health Department staff that show “ACHD increasingly distrusted U.S. Steel to make decisions in the public interest or even be honest with them,” Public Source reporter Oliver Morrison noted in a series of tweets about the project.

The stories also detail the human toll this took on the surrounding communities, noting studies that detailed how the fire helped spur a spike in hospitalizations, emergency visits, and medicine use among Mon Valley asthma sufferers.

These findings, unfortunately, confirm what GASP and others have long suspected. 

Back in 2019, we examined a federal class-action lawsuit filed against U.S. Steel on behalf of its investors. That lawsuit included testimony from current and former U.S. Steel employees who described systemic maintenance and operational failures.

 “GASP’s analysis showed the company was struggling to comply with air emissions standards during the same time the plaintiffs alleged U.S. Steel asked employees to ‘jury rig’ machines and generally operated with a ‘don’t buy, get by’ mentality,” GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell said. “These findings make it clear where U.S. Steel’s priorities lie, and it’s not with the residents who live nearby or their employees.”

He added: “U.S. Steel is and has always been a company that puts profits above people. And that’s had a human toll – something made clear by recent health studies.”

Residents who’ve long been impacted by air pollution from the Mon Valley Works were furious at the news.

“The fact that harm to health is overshadowed by the industry’s gains is repulsive,” Clairton resident Melanie Meade said. “Children with poor education, poor food, and environmental pollution are suffering when the industry can change its operations and infrastructure to create a better environment. There has never been continuous improvement in Clairton and the lives lost proves it.” 

North Braddock resident Edith Abeyta concurred.

“U.S Steel’s neglect and its preference for profits over people has come to light,” she said. “It’s time they take care of the damage they have done to the community and their workers.” 

Meanwhile, despite the severe neglect documented at the Clairton plant leading to the explosion and fire, U.S. Steel recorded hefty profits during 2018 and used the money to buy back shares instead of investing in the plant to fix problems. For curious minds that want to know: U.S. Steel posted full-year 2018 net earnings of $1.115 billion and spent $75 million in repurchasing shares.

Also worth noting is that these investigative reports came amidst a November dominated by abysmal air, with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) AirNow.com site ranking Liberty-Clairton area’s air quality among the worst in the nation on 19 days this month. 

The area also experienced an exceedance of fine particulate matter (PM2.5), according to initial data. Additionally, our region’s air has violated the state’s hydrogen sulfide (H2S) standard 46 times this year at the Liberty monitor – with the latest occurring just days after the reports were published. 

Editor’s Note: Here are links to the stories mentioned for those who would like to take a deeper dive.

Corroded Equipment Led to Catastrophic Fire at U.S. Steel Plant, Court Documents Reveal, published by Allegheny Front

The City of Prayer: Clairton’s Residents Persevere Amid Persistent Pollution and Violence, published by Public Source

U.S. Steel Faces Lawsuit Alleging that Clairton Coke Works ‘Decrepit” Condition Continues to Enganger Mon Valley Residents, published by Public Source

Special Report: U.S. Steel Investors Sue Company, Allege Systemic Maintenance Failures; Did Investors Uncover Intentional Acts that Threatened Local Air Quality, published by GASP in July 2019

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