U.S. Steel is Challenging New Rules Giving the Allegheny County Health Department More Oversight

U.S. Steel is Challenging New Rules Giving the Allegheny County Health Department More Oversight

Proposed rules limiting emissions from Clairton coke works are being challenged by U.S. Steel, which is the largest source of hydrogen sulfide pollution in Allegheny County. It does not want changes because it says the new changes are very strict compared to existing regulations and the health department proposing the changes has not justified them. In a 2019 agreement with the Allegheny County Health Department, the department must give reasons justifying changes including technical feasibility and benefits to the environment. U.S. Steel also does not like that the regulatory changes do not help clarify monitoring and record keeping ambiguities or have procedures set in place for inspecting coke oven doors.

U.S Steel does not like that the draft rule has no detailed observation procedures. It thinks regulators would not be able to regulate consistently or objectively. U.S. Steel wants a clearer and less ambiguous policy so it can determine what needs to be done to ensure compliance. All criticisms from U.S Steel will be addressed during a public comment period. The health department’s deputy director for environmental health Jim Kelly says the rule change was created because the current rule is outdated, and the health department also wanted to create requirements for sulfur dioxide.

Environmental organizations say this is not the first time that U.S. Steel has focused on the process to delay regulation. U.S. Steel does not want stricter regulations and has tried to slow down progress for air pollution issues. Instead of trying to find solutions, U.S. Steel continues to add hydrogen sulfide, sulfur dioxide, and other airborne particulate into the air leading to people in the surrounding area having poor health. If the regulations are improved, it won’t improve people’s health 100 percent, but it will at least show that Clairton Coke Works is able to change and not completely pollute the surrounding area.

Clairton Coke works has had many pollution problems over time. It turns coal into coke by baking it, which is a dirty process. One of the problems was a large fire that lead to large amounts of sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and soot being released into the air for 28 days. U.S. Steel has also had to create a $3 million trust fund benefitting Mon Valley communities affected by its pollution. There have also been a lot of complaints about the smell in the surrounding area, which is the result of hydrogen sulfide being released into the air. Clairton Coke Works is a non-compliant facility because it has used coke oven gas since the December 2018 fire. It needs to resolve enforcement orders for past violations in order to have the non-compliance status removed.

If the draft rule changes are approved, hydrogen sulfide would be reduced and carbon disulfide, carbonyl sulfide, methyl mercaptan, ethyl mercaptan, and sulfur dioxide would be included in measurements. Hydrogen sulfide affects the lungs and can cause nausea, headaches, dizziness, tremors, convulsions, vomiting, and skin rashes.

Don Hopey, “Allegheny County’s proposed coke oven rules are hot topic” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (October 25, 2020). [Link]

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