Enviro Groups Takes US Steel to Court on Pollution Controls

Mon Valley Works is an integrated steelmaking operation under the U.S. Steel umbrella that includes the Clairton Plant, Edgar Thomson Plant, Irvin Plant and Fairless Plant. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Steel)

PITTSBURGH (CN) — Two environmental advocacy groups brought a federal complaint Monday over U.S. Steel’s failure to implement pollution controls at three Pittsburgh-area plants.

“It is unacceptable that U.S. Steel ran these plants without essential pollution controls, claiming there was no safe alternative,” Ashleigh Deemer, the western director of PennEnvironment, said in a statement. “No one, including U.S. Steel, should be allowed to jeopardize our health by running what amounts to a doomsday machine with no off-switch.” 

Filed in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, the complaint by PennEnvironment and the Clean Air Council says U.S. Steel allowed three of its plants to emit dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide and hydrogen sulfide, as well as carcinogens like benzene. 

U.S. Steel’s Mon Valley Works operates the plants at issue: one steel mills in West Mifflin the Irvin plant, another in Braddock called the Edgar Thomson plant, and a third called Clairton Coke Works, which ranks as the largest coke oven facility in North America and was fined more than $2 million last year for air pollution. 

PennEnvironment says the pollution in question has been ongoing since a December 2018 fire at the coke works plant damaged several sulfur-removal control rooms. 

Though U.S. Steel claimed on April 4 that it was filtering 100% of the gas that the coke oven generates, the complaint says the lack of pollution control up until then caused increased particulate matter in the air.

One of the pollutants, hydrogen sulfide, which has a “rotten egg” smell, is known to negatively affect the central nervous system and respiratory system. Likewise, exposure to high levels of sulfur dioxide is known to increase the likelihood of strokes, heart attacks and asthma. Benzene meanwhile is linked to leukemia.

In their complaint, PennEnvironment and the Clean Air Council ask for a court order that will force U.S. Steel to comply with the law, plus civil penalties of $97,229 per day for each violation of the Clean Air Act. The groups request that $100,000 of these penalties be put toward remediating public health and the environment in areas affected by this pollution. 

“U.S. Steel has a responsibility to remedy the harm to the community and prevent this situation from happening again,” Christopher Ahlers, a staff attorney with Clean Air Council, said in a statement Monday.

A U.S. Steel representative did not immediately return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

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