USS – Clairton Plant

U.S. Steel’s Clairton Plant, also known as the Clairton Coke Works, is the third-most-toxic air polluter in Allegheny County. There are roughly 36,500 people living within three miles of this facility. The Clairton plant has been in violation of the Clean Air Act in every quarter of the three years ending in June 2021 and has been fined over $5 million since 2014. The emissions from this plant, the nation’s largest manufacturer of coke (a type of refined coal), can affect public health.

Over the years, the Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) and U.S. Steel have negotiated a series of consent orders in which U.S. Steel has pledged to make improvements at the facility and bring it into compliance with clean air laws. Those agreements, however, have repeatedly been violated. The facility was issued the largest fine in ACHD history in 2018, along with an order to make emissions improvements or idle the worst-performing parts of the facility. After extended legal appeals by U.S. Steel, ACHD ultimately reached a settlement that maintained the financial penalties but walked back some of the other requirements, including the threat of shutdown. Money from this settlement was put into a “Community Benefits Trust” that critics have argued lacks transparency. This settlement also limited ACHD’s ability to implement future regulations at the Coke Works.

In 2018, a fire at the facility knocked out critical emission control units – the second such outage in a decade – triggering 10 exceedances of federal health standards for sulfur dioxide over a span of 14 weeks, and leading ACHD to warn Mon Valley residents to limit their outdoor activity. In 2019, PennEnvironment and the Clean Air Council filed a Clean Air Act lawsuit against U.S. Steel, later joined by ACHD as an intervenor, for thousands of violations resulting from the fire.

In 2020, ACHD unveiled proposed updates to county regulations governing the Clairton Coke Works, which were met with vocal opposition from U.S. Steel. The new regulations would improve inspection procedures and clarify existing pollution limits, but still contain loopholes allowing the oldest, dirtiest parts of the facility to pollute at much higher levels than the rest of the facility. In 2021 U.S. Steel announced the closing of three of Clairton’s coke batteries by the start of 2023, which is expected to reduce air pollution from the facility.

Health EffectsChemicals
CancerBenzene, Ethylbenzene, Lead Compounds, Naphthalene, Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds, Pyridine, Styrene
Cardiovascular SystemCyanide Compounds, Lead Compounds
Nervous SystemBenzene, Carbon Disulfide, Cresol (Mixed Isomers), Cyanide Compounds, Dicyclopentadiene, 2,4-Dimethylphenol, Ethylbenzene, Hydrogen Cyanide, Hydrogen Sulfide, Lead Compounds, Mercury Compounds, Methanol, Naphthalene, Phenol, Pyridine, Styrene, Toluene, Xylene (Mixed Isomers)
Respiratory SystemAmmonia, Cresol (Mixed Isomers), Cyanide Compounds, Ethylene Glycol, Hydrochloric Acid, Hydrogen Sulfide, Naphthalene, Phenol, Propylene, Styrene, Toluene, Xylene (Mixed Isomers)
DevelopmentalBenzene, Carbon Disulfide, Ethylbenzene, Ethylene Glycol, Lead Compounds, Mercury Compounds, Methanol, Nitrate Compounds, Xylene (Mixed Isomers)
ReproductiveBenzene, Carbon Disulfide, Cyanide Compounds, Hydrogen Cyanide, Lead Compounds

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