MON VALLEY (KDKA) — The week of Christmas was one of the worst weeks of the year for air pollution in a part of the Mon Valley.

There were several days when the Clairton area had the worst air quality in the county.

“It smelled horrible and it was something that would thicken the phlegm in your throat,” Melanie Meade said.

Having grown up in a house overlooking the Clairton Coke Work plants, Meade has breathed a lot of bad air.

But she says none as bad as last week when, according to the Allegheny County Health Department, particulate pollution exceeded federal standards six days in a row.

The department says it’s been in communication with U.S. Steel to “ensure compliance,” but Meade says that’s not enough to protect residents.

“The Allegheny Health Department wouldn’t accept it from a restaurant or a food handler. And they shouldn’t accept it from an industry this size, because of its impact on the people who live here,” Meade said.

An environmental watchdog group — Breathe Project — says exceedance hydrogen sulfide and benzene last week were among the worst in the nation.

They reject the health department’s contention that the exceedances were a temporary condition caused by a weather inversion of fog and low clouds that trapped and contained the pollution.

“All we’re hearing is the weather is causing these bad readings, and that’s not really protecting people’s health when you use the weather as a mechanism,” said Breathe Project’s Executive Director Matthew Mehalik, who says environmental groups and citizens now plan to lobby the county to take more definitive action.

“People are now deciding that they need to show up at public meetings and comment. We’re anticipating that people will speak at the county council reorganization meeting on Thursday and the Board of Health meeting on Jan. 8th,” Mehalik said.