Follow KDKA-TV: Facebook | Twitter

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The Allegheny County Health Department says problems began for the Mon Valley on Christmas Eve when a fire broke out inside the Clairton Plant, and since then there have been six separate occasions when air quality has been unhealthy for certain people.

Health officials are urging people who live in the Mon Valley to limit their outdoor activities until further notice due to air quality concerns.

“This is a respiratory irritant, many people who have a respiratory illness, especially asthma, it can trigger an asthma attack,” said Jim Kelley of the Allegheny County Health Department. “The general public should not be affected.”

According to the Allegheny County Health Department, a fire last month at the plant damaged two gas dispatcher stations, causing higher than normal sulfur dioxide emissions.

“That fire damaged a lot of the equipment and part of that equipment was the equipment that removes sulfur from the gas stream and that gas stream is what they burn to fire their batteries and their boilers,” said Kelley.

Sulfur dioxide is a colorless gas that smells like a “just-struck match.”

The plant’s ability to remove sulfur dioxide is now limited. The Allegheny County Health Department is monitoring the toxic gas with a device placed on top of the South Allegheny High School. Officials say that measurements tend to peak each morning between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m.

Officials say high levels of the gas can have an impact on people’s breathing, especially for those who already have respiratory and cardiovascular issues.

Dianna Bowser lives in Glassport and is one of the many residents that live in the affected area. Bowers says she is upset that she has no idea about the potential health risks.

“It affects me pretty well,” said Bowser. “I have COPD, I have asthma, children that have asthma. We did not know anything about this until I spoke with him today.”

They are advising people who live in the Mon Valley, especially those who suffer from asthma, bronchitis and emphysema, as well as the elderly and children, to limit their activities outdoors until repairs are made at the plant.

The areas impacted include:

  • Braddock
  • Clairton
  • Dravosburg
  • Duquesne
  • East McKeesport
  • East Pittsburgh
  • Elizabeth Borough
  • Elizabeth Township
  • Forward
  • Glassport
  • Jefferson Hills
  • Liberty
  • Lincoln
  • McKeesport
  • North Braddock
  • North Versailles
  • Pleasant Hills
  • Port Vue
  • Versailles
  • Wall
  • West Elizabeth
  • West Mifflin

Deputy Director for Environmental Health Jim Kelly said in a statement:

“We have been closely monitoring this issue since we were first notified of the fire on Dec. 24. While the plant has substituted natural gas for coke oven gas and extended coking time, there have been four exceedances. While their strategies appeared to be addressing their emissions, the data from yesterday morning showed two exceedances of the federal hourly standards. We had previously required additional controls be implemented to address each new exceedance. Following yesterday’s exceedances, the plant implemented additional actions to address the issue. We will continue monitoring the situation and consider requiring additional action, including enforcement actions, if necessary.”

The Health Department and plant officials are working together to address the emissions and bring them back down to federal standards.

For more information on air quality monitored data, visit the county’s website at this link.