CLAIRTON (KDKA) – Air quality concerns continue in the Mon Valley after a recent fire at the Clairton Coke Works. Public hearings are being held so residents have a platform to air their concerns.
There was an overflow crowd at the Clairton City Hall, where many steelworkers packed the room, some fear that too much regulation could close the plant. The company says the plant is vitally important to the economy.
“Without coke from Clairton, we could not operate the Edgar Thomas Works or the Irvin Finishing Facility, as well as the other locations outside of Pennsylvania,” said Mike Rhoades, the plant manager at Clairton Coke Works.
The public hearing, which was called by state Senator Jum Brewster and Representative Austin Davis, was in response to a fire at the Clairton Coke Works on Dec. 24, 2018.
“We need to see to it that air quality standards are properly monitored and that local emergency response and community notification procedures are accurate and timely,” Brewster said. “To accomplish this goal, we must bring together officials from U.S. Steel, the Allegheny County Department of Health, local governments, labor organizations and emergency responders.
While state lawmakers acknowledged the importance of those jobs, they also say the community deserves clean air. The head of Allegheny County’s Health Department, Dr. Karen Hacker, wants U.S. Steel to clean up its act.
But lawmakers just aren’t happy with the company’s effort to limit pollution.
“Despite having the strongest coke oven regulations in the entire country, Allegheny County is still out of compliance with the Clean Air Act,” said Hacker.
“You don’t value us very much and that’s a problem,” said Pa. Representative Summer Lee. “Because we deserve also, to live in an environment where we are valued and where our health is valued.
Pa. Senator Jay Costa also voiced his opinion.
“The people in these communities, for decades and decades, have been suffering and dealing with air quality that’s not been appropriate for them to have to deal with,” said Costa. “That’s what’s troubling to me. This was the last straw, quite frankly, in these conversations.”
Allegheny County Health Department Director Karen Hacker is asking the legislature to give her the power to idle the plan when it exceeds pollution guidelines.
Don Furko, who serves as president of the United Steelworkers Local #1557, added, “Simply put, if U.S. Steel ends up idling batteries, our members will lose their jobs. This will begin a chain of events that will have a devastating impact on them, their families and our communities across the Mon Valley.”
“The department will continue to be proactive and aggressive to improve air quality in our county, as our actions indicate,” said Hacker. “We will continue to improve our communication via our current strategies through additional opportunities such as mobile phone applications and direct communication with citizens, municipal leaders and legislators.”