A December 24 fire at the Clairton Coke Works is still causing air pollution problems for surrounding communities. Twenty-two communities are being affected by the fire and an advisory will be in effect indefinitely until the plant is fixed. There are higher levels of sulfur dioxide than normal, which can affect breathing by aggravating respiratory diseases including asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema as well as aggravating cardiovascular disease.
Braddock, Clairton, Dravosburg, Duquesne, East McKeesport, East Pittsburgh, Elizabeth Borough, Elizabeth Township, Forward, Glassport, Jefferson Hills, Liberty, Lincoln, McKeesport, North Braddock, North Versailles, Pleasant Hills, Port Vue, Versailles, Wall, West Elizabeth, and West Mifflin
The fire, which started at 4:20 am and lasted until 9:30 am, occurred in the cryogenic gas separation facility. This part of the facility removes sulfur during the coke gas processing operation. Sixteen 1500 horsepower compressors were also damaged during the fire. It is going to take time to be fully operational because the structures and equipment need to be evaluated to ensure the building and equipment are stable and functional. Plant officials and the health department are addressing emissions and in the meantime the company is reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by baking coke batteries for longer periods of time and using natural gas instead of the normal coke oven gas. U.S. Steel is also using reserves of coke to make its steel so production of steel does not become affected.
The fire and pollution are more problems for a troubled plant. It has had to pay $4 million for terms of enforcement in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011, 2014, and 2016. It also had to pay $620,000 this past October for air quality violations. With Clairton Coke Works having so many problems with pollution, U.S. Steel needs to find ways to reduce its output of pollution and be good neighbors to residents nearby.
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Don Hopey and Adam Smeltz, “Health Dept. warns Mon Valley about air quality in wake of coke plant fire” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (January 9, 2019). [Link]