Prove your humanity

Residents living near U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works met with pro bono lawyers Thursday to discuss a settlement in a class action lawsuit brought by local residents.

The agreement resolved a lawsuit over odors and emissions from the Clairton plant. 

Lawyers with the nonprofit Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services met with residents to answer questions about the settlement. 

Plaintiffs must decide by January 20 whether to stay in the lawsuit or to keep their rights to a future legal claim against U.S. Steel.  

One potential plaintiff is Johnie Perryman, whose own doctor recommended he leave the polluted air of Clairton because of a heart condition. Perryman had a heart pump installed in his chest in July to keep his blood pumping.  

“You have to ask yourself the question, how long will that last? How long can the equipment hold up?” Perryman said.

The settlement, approved by a judge in December, calls for U.S. Steel to spend $6.5 million on pollution controls at the plant. It calls for an additional $2 million to be split up among 5,600 plaintiffs that live near the plant.

Perryman, 76, said that worked out to $190 per household. He said if the entire $8.5 million were given to the plaintiffs, they would be entitled to something like $1,000 each, a sum far more proportionate to the nuisance of living next to one of the state’s biggest polluters. 

“What most people are worried about here is the health problems they have because of this pollution. And there’s so many people with cancer,” Perryman said. 

If 20 plaintiffs opt out of the lawsuit, U.S. Steel can withdraw from the agreement, and a new one would have to be worked out.

Nick Cubra, 56, said the $190 he would get from the lawsuit doesn’t compensate for living near the plant since the 70s. 

I can only imagine. Back then, there wasn’t any of this air quality stuff. I’ve been exposed to this all my life. I’m not giving it up for $190.”

Another free legal session is scheduled for Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Clairton City Hall.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.