PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – It’s a day of bad air in the Mon Valley. The Allegheny County Health Department has issued an Air Pollution Watch through Thursday morning.
Every morning, Cheryl Hurt sits on her front stoop, watching the plumes of smoke rising from the Clairton Coke Works below, wondering if it’s going to be a good day or a bad day.
“On a bad day, we stay in the house. Your eyes will water,” says Hurt.
Despite the sunny skies, Wednesday is one of those days. For the ninth time this spring, particulate emissions in Clairton have exceeded federal standards of 2.5 parts per million, meaning children and older people with health problems are advised to stay inside.
Starting last evening, air quality readings for PM2.5 at the Liberty Monitor increased and have remained elevated. This is unusual and unexpected because the air dispersion forecast was for fair air quality yesterday evening and fair for this morning. pic.twitter.com/PmudCwlxYT
— Allegheny County Health Department (@HealthAllegheny) April 7, 2021
“They can’t go out. They can’t open their windows. And a lot of them have health problems as a result, which makes days like this even scarier,” said Myron Arnowitt of Clean Water Action.
On Wednesday, the county Health Department took aim at the coke works batteries — huge banks of coke ovens which it says is responsible for much of the emissions. U.S. Steel has taken the batteries offline and the county is asking they stay offline until the air improves. But in a statement, U.S. Steel blames other factors, including car traffic trapped in a temperature inversion.
“The county is currently experiencing an inversion that began last night. There are a number of factors that impact PM 2.5 readings at the Liberty Monitor, including but not limited to mobile emissions. Clairton personnel did an evaluation of the plant and surrounding areas, and no issues were observed,” said a statement from U.S. Steel.
In an agreement with the county, U.S. Steel is committed to making more than $100 million in upgrades design to improve air quality. But environmentalists say they must include replacing those batteries.
“They’ve lived their life and they’re leaking all over the place,” said Arnowitt.
And Cheryl Hurt wants action now.
“If they were doing more, we wouldn’t have the issues, the problems,” she said.
Now, U.S. Steel said they actually took the batteries offline before the spike in emission. As to whether they will replace them, the steel giant says it is weighing its options.