Health department issues air quality update for Clairton Coke Works area

PITTSBURGH — While U.S. Steel continues to repair damage left by a December fire at its Clairton plant, nearby residents are still being warned to limit their outdoor activities because of sulfur dioxide emissions.

The Allegheny County Health Department issued an update on the problems Wednesday, a week after their initial warning about the risk to people with respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.

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Department employees are monitoring the repairs to the Clairton Coke Works daily, said Dr. Karen Hacker, department director, in a statement. There is no timetable for the repairs and the cause of the fire is still being investigated, she said.

“Right now, U.S. Steel is continuing its mitigation efforts, and modifications to the plant are ongoing to reduce the impact of emissions,” she said. “This includes extending coking times, introducing natural gas to offset coke oven gas, and flaring to dilute the impact of SO2.”

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The latest spike in sulfur dioxide, a respiratory irritant, was recorded at 4 a.m. on Jan. 8 at the department’s Liberty monitor, she said, and future spikes are possible as the repairs take place.

She promised to provide information on future risks to air quality more quickly.

“Until repairs are completed at the Clairton Coke Works, ACHD will provide daily updates at 3 p.m. related to information coming from the air quality monitors and a weekly update, such as this,” she said. “Should there be any changes to information, or exceedances, information will be provided at that time. All updates will be posted on the ACHD website’s system more proactively.”

Sulfur dioxide presents a risk to people with asthma, individuals with bronchitis or emphysema, children, and the elderly.