Fire at U. S. Steel plant cuts power to key pollution control systems


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U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works plant.

By Jon Moss, News Editor

An electrical fire occurred at U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works plant early Monday morning rendering desulfurization, or pollution control, systems inoperational, according to the Allegheny County Health Department.

The plant previously suffered a fire just six months ago on Christmas Eve, which led to widespread damage and resulted in a combined 28 exceedances of environmental standards for three different regulated materials — sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide and particulate matter 2.5.

The health department issued an emergency order forcing Clairton Coke Works to comply with environmental regulations and requiring the plant to submit plans within 24 hours about how it plans to do so. If the plant does not meet compliance requirements in up to 21 days, coking operations, the plant’s primary polluting activity in creating fuel for the steelmaking process, must cease.

But unlike the Christmas Eve fire, the health department said no exceedances had been recorded as of noon Monday and there is no specific danger presented to residents.

“It’s important to understand that there is no need for individuals to take specific precautions at this time,” the department said in a press release announcing the order. “Residents should be aware of the potential for elevated SO2 levels.”

Allegheny County received an “F” rating from the American Lung Association in this year’s “State of the Air” report in every category due to particulate matter and ozone concentrations that exceeded national air quality standards. The health department has levied increasing fines on Clairton Coke Works for emitting pollutants in violation of environmental regulations.

Meghan Cox, a spokesperson for U.S. Steel, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the plant’s pollution control systems were “waiting to be restored” and did not experience as much damage as during the Christmas Eve fire.

“In December we were talking about significant failure, significant damage,” Cox said. “Today we’re talking about a circuit breaker that affected power to the control rooms.”

But elected officials have taken a hard stance on the coke works’ failure to comply with environmental standards in the wake of the December fire.

County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said in a statement he was “very disappointed” that another fire occurred at the Clairton plant, and wants U.S. Steel to get the pollution control systems working again as soon as possible.

“People in this community need assurance that the pollution control equipment is reliable and usable,” Fitzgerald said. “I implore U.S. Steel to use all due speed to get this fixed as soon as possible and to take immediate steps to put in a back-up system for their operations. The health of the people of Clairton and surrounding communities, and the U.S. Steel employees, is too important to do otherwise.”