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GASP, Residents Hold Press Conference to Tell ACHD: Revise Coke Oven Regs & Get a Handle on H2S Violations

The Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) on Nov. 6 held a press conference at the Pittsburgh City-County Building to tell the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD): Enough is enough with ongoing violations of the hydrogen sulfide (H2S) standard—it’s time to strengthen our local coke oven regulations.

At the press conference, local residents impacted by poor air quality and fellow environmental activists joined GASP in calling on the Allegheny County Health Department to do what it promised more than a year ago: Revise coke oven regulations that would help reduce hydrogen sulfide, which is often associated by a tell-tale rotten egg stench.

Speakers included:

  • GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini
  • Art Thomas, resident of Clairton
  • Mark Dixon, local activist and filmmaker
  • Edith Abeyta, resident of North Braddock
  • Christine Graziano, resident of Shadyside
  • Melanie Meade, resident of Clairton

“More stringent coke-oven regulations are important because coke-making is a primary source of H2S in Allegheny County. In fact, U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works is the largest emitter of H2S in the entire state,” GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said.

GASP then presented its associated petition with nearly 650 signatures to the Allegheny County Board of Health, which met later the same day.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Toxic Release Inventory, Clairton Coke Works self-reported emitting about 120 tons of H2S in 2018—the most recent year for which data is available—while the self-reported emissions for all other sources in Pennsylvania combined totaled about 36.5 tons.

While most smelly, airborne chemicals have no regulatory concentrations, hydrogen sulfide does. In Allegheny County there is a limit for hydrogen sulfide, which is monitored by ACHD. On average, that standard has been violated about 50 times a year for the past several years—and five times last month, according to preliminary data. 

“How many tens of thousands of odor complaints need to be submitted by countless residents before local officials do what is necessary to fix this most-unnecessary offense in this otherwise most-livable city?” Dixon said.  “And why has the number of SmellPGH complaints continued to rise even after US Steel announced that their post-fire repairs at Clairton Coke Works were completed?”

Jim Kelly, ACHD’s deputy director of environmental health, told the Tribune Review that “numerous equipment improvements” such as emissions-control system upgrades at U.S. Steel are built into the still-pending settlement agreement with U.S. Steel.  He said those upgrades are expected to have a “significant impact on fugitive emissions, which are typically the source of (H2S) emissions.”

But then in a radio interview, health department officials said they were committed to strengthening coke oven regulations.

In a statement emailed to the newspaper, U.S. Steel said that environmental stewardship remains a top concern. A spokeswoman reiterated the talking point that U.S. Steel would be investing $1 billion into its Mon Valley Works plant.

This statement came about a week after news broke that U.S. Steel would idle one of its batteries at its Clairton Coke Works, and days after the company made headlines for plans to “slash capital investments” everywhere but its Gary Works hot strip mill.

“The Pittsburgh-based steelmaker, one of Northwest Indiana’s largest employers, announced during a conference call with investors that would reduce capital spending to $950 million in 2020 instead of the expected $1.65 billion,” according to NWI.com.

“Unfortunately, at this point there are more questions than answers surrounding what U.S. Steel’s actual plans are for making significant improvements at its Mon Valley Works facilities,” Filippini added. “It’s a shame that we have to take an ‘I’ll believe it when I see it” approach when it involves air pollution that impacts so many in such a serious way.”

It’s not to late to add your name to our petition:

Hydrogen Sulfide Petition

Petition urging the Allegheny County Health Department to achieve the hydrogen sulfide standard

Editor’s Note: Check out our Twitter feed for more photos, videos, and retweeted content from our partner organizations. Our friend Mark Dixon kindly broadcast the event via Facebook live. You can see the entire event on the Inversion Documentary Facebook page. For those interested in learning more, here’s local media coverage of the event:

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