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GASP to Allegheny County Health Dept: Public Deserves Update on the July 4 U.S. Steel Outage at Clairton, Air Quality Implications

An unplanned early morning power outage at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works facility on Monday, the Fourth of July, resulted in heavy smoke and flames emanating from the facility – and the incident prompted the Allegheny County Health Department to issue a public alert.

That message was just a few paragraphs long and told residents the outage required the flaring of coke oven gases from the Clairton Coke Works’ stacks and batteries, that ACHD was monitoring air quality monitors surrounding the plant, and that those monitors, “have not indicated any adverse conditions since the event and it is believed that the power outage will either not affect or only minimally affect plant emissions.”

In closing, the Alert stated: “The Health Department will remain in contact with the plant throughout the day.”

To our surprise (and dismay) that was the only information shared with the public regarding the July 4 incident. There was no follow-up.

While GASP appreciates that the department vowed to remain in contact with U.S. Steel throughout the day, our public health officials – again –  failed to provide updated information to the residents whose public health they are charged with protecting.

We understand Monday was a holiday. But it’s been more than two days. The public deserves details about what exactly happened at the plant to cause the outage, detailed information about the incident’s impact on air quality, and what is being done to ensure something similar doesn’t happen again.

“The Allegheny Alert stated that the effect on air quality was expected to be minimal, but it altogether ignored its impact on the community,” GASP Executive Director Patrick Campbell said. “Residents told us about feeling like they were choking that day, and the SmellPgh app shows numerous complaints on July 4 that reference a strong sulfur odor and resulting physical symptoms like headache, difficulty breathing, and irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat.”

GASP is calling on ACHD to provide a substantive update to residents. Specifically, we’re asking the department to make public the breakdown report U.S. Steel is required to provide to ACHD – a document the company has until Monday to submit.

“More than anything, the public needs to know steps are being taken to prevent these kinds of outages in the future,” Campbell said. 

That’s why we’re also calling on U.S. Steel to provide a public update to the residents – their neighbors – who they impacted Monday.

“U.S. Steel never fails to take the opportunity to profess what a good neighbor it is to the people of the Mon Valley and how much it cares for the communities in which it operates,” Campbell said. “The company’s silence over the past two days has been extremely telling. When it comes to being a good neighbor, U.S. Steel is all lip service.” 

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Group Against Smog and Pollution