Last year at Clairton Coke Works, a series of fires damaged multiple control rooms, equipment, and desulfurization units, releasing dangerous pollutants — namely sulfur dioxide — into the region's air. This spurred air quality concerns throughout the Mon Valley and Allegheny County.
According to the press release, ACHD has assessed $743,625 in stipulated penalties, and 90% will be paid to the Community Benefit Trust for impacted communities, while 10% will be paid to the Clean Air Fund. These figures were calculated following an agreement reached between U.S. Steel and ACHD last summer.
Pittsburgh has a long and troubled relationship with pollution. Between the city’s famed steel industry and the mining of coal along the banks of the Monongahela River, Pittsburgh’s air was once so polluted it stained the sides of buildings black. The air pollution has improved dramatically since then, but in the wake of fires at the Coke Works plant, many feared the city once dubbed “Hell with the lid off” was reliving some of those darker days.
"We thank ACHD for its continued vigilance when it comes to @U_S_Steel noncompliance w/ #airquality regs,” said @rachelgasp. “The repeated nature of these violations is indicative of chronic operational failures and systemic sub par facility maintenance." https://t.co/AmLmG1ILKf— GASP (@GASPPgh) January 17, 2020
Last year, the American Thoracic Society and New York University’s Marron Institute for Urban Management issued a collaborative report detailing the dangers of Pittsburgh’s pollution. The region ranked fourth in the country in terms of deaths relating to poor air quality, and another recent report by the American Lung Association named the city’s air the eighth-worst in the U.S.
Pittsburgh also has one of the highest rates of childhood asthma, with nearly 22% of school-aged children in some Pittsburgh-area schools showing symptoms, as opposed to the national average of about 10%.
A rally on Jan. 10 saw more than 50 Pittsburghers gather at the City-County building to advocate for cleaner air and stricter regulations. At the rally, U.S. Steel, which owns Clairton Coke Works, was cited as the largest single producer of carbon emissions in the region.
PennFuture estimates that a great deal of Pittsburgh’s air pollution has come from the plant, which still uses equipment from the 1950s. Advocacy groups have called for the retiring of the Coke Works’ old and faulty batteries, and the upgrading of vital equipment to ensure cleaner air and safer jobs in the Mon Valley.