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GASP to Allegheny County Health Department: Don’t Squander This Opportunity to Improve Air Quality in Mon Valley

GASP on Tuesday joined residents and fellow air quality advocates to provide input on the draft Title V operating permit for U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works facility, telling the Allegheny County Health Department not to squander the opportunity to help improve public health (and quality of life) in the Mon Valley.

Residents from several municipalities in and around the Clairton facility – which has been operating under a Title V permit that expired back in 2016 – presented powerful testimony, telling ACHD about having to place pillows around doors and windows to keep pungent air from seeping in, about asthma attacks that have become more frequent, about the fear they have just walking out the front door in the morning.

They placed the blame squarely on U.S. Steel, telling officials how emissions from its Clairton Coke Works were impacting their health and upending their lives. And they asked ACHD to make the permit as protective of public health as possible.

While GASP’s attorneys are crafting written comments, our Executive Director Patrick Campbell was in attendance of the hearing (which took place at the Clairton Municipal Building) to present testimony. 

Big thanks to our friend Mark Dixon for the photo of Patrick delivering his comments. Here’s what he told ACHD:

Photo courtesy of Inversion Documentary

Good evening. My name is Patrick Campbell. I am the executive director of the Group Against Smog and Pollution, an air quality watchdog group founded in 1969. Thank you for the opportunity to present testimony today. 

GASP attorneys will address the lack of a compliance schedule and other technical deficiencies with U.S. Steel’s Title V permit in written comments, but I’d like to focus on an issue that’s long affected the health and well-being of residents: The all-too-regular exceedances of Pennsylvania’s 24-hour average hydrogen sulfide (H2S) standard. 

The H2S standard – according to PA regulations – is “the maximum concentrations of air contaminants which will be permitted to exist in the ambient air.” Yet, according to ACHD Annual Air Quality Reports for 2011- 2020, H2S levels at the Liberty monitor exceeded this standard on 455 days over those 10 years. Preliminary data show an additional 54 such exceedances in 2021. While ACHD has meticulously documented air quality that unequivocally violates state standards, it has yet to adequately address it. 

GASP thinks the place to start is painfully obvious: U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works. The PA DEP Air Emissions data show the Clairton Coke facility was the largest emitter of H2S in the entire state for each of those 10 years, averaging over 120 tons of H2S emissions annually. 

U.S. Steel often contends it is not the source of the problem, but it is clear its Clairton Coke Works facility is an enormous part of the problem. And as a contributor to the regular and ongoing exceedances of the H2S air quality standard, the Title V permit for U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke facility must include stronger limitations on H2S emissions. 

Residents are counting on the public health officials tasked with protecting them to do just that, they – we – are counting on ACHD to help stem the often-sky-high H2S concentrations that force us to close windows on nice days, keep our kids from playing outside, and wake us up at night. Don’t squander this opportunity to make improvements to the health and quality of life for people who live near – and downwind of the Clairton Coke Works.

 

If you missed the meeting and want to hear the full comments, the video can be viewed on the ACHD Facebook page where it was live-streamed Tuesday:

We also wanted to give a shout-out to our friends at Clean Air Council, who live-tweeted the hearing and Inversion Documentary for filming the hearing and posting some awesome updates from the hearing:

Big thanks also to Valley Clean Air Now (VCAN) and Breathe Project, who helped get the word out about the hearing through press releases you can read here and here.

Here’s the media coverage of the hearing so far (check back, we’ll add news article links as we see ‘em):

Air Quality Advocates Urge County to Add Restrictions to U.S. Steel Permit, City Paper

Advocates Say Stricter Air Permit Could Help Ensure Air Quality, WESA

Editor’s Note: It’s important to note that written comments on the permit draft can still be submitted to ACHD through the end of the day on March 15. You can find out more information on that process here. Check back, GASP will have sample comment language and an online form that routes your comments straight to ACHD (easy peasy). 

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Group Against Smog and Pollution