Prove your humanity

A lawsuit filed in federal court in Pittsburgh Monday alleges U.S. Steel withheld required pollution data after a Dec. 24 fire knocked out pollution controls at the company’s Clairton coke works for more than three months. 

The lawsuit, filed by the Clean Air Council and the Environmental Integrity Project, alleges that while the plant was operating without pollution controls, the company was required under the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act — commonly referred to as the “Superfund” law — to report other hazardous releases.  

During the outage, the company flared sulfur-rich coke oven gases at Clairton and other nearby facilities in West Mifflin and Braddock, collectively called the Mon Valley Works. It reported sulfur dioxide emissions from the three plants to local regulators. 

But the environmental groups say the company also should have been reporting releases of other hazardous air pollutants to the National Response Center, a pollution reporting clearinghouse run by the U.S. Coast Guard. These pollutants include the nose- and throat-irritant hydrogen sulfide, and carcinogens like benzene and coke oven gas. 

Adam Kron, an attorney with the Environmental Integrity Project, said the group tried unsuccessfully to get the information from the company. 

We don’t understand why they haven’t done this yet. It doesn’t make sense that this information shouldn’t be out there. We’re not asking them to shut down the Mon Valley Works,” Kron said. “This is just reporting.

After the Christmas Eve fire, thousands registered complaints to the Allegheny County Health Department about air pollution from the plant.

Kron said they should be able to know what they were breathing.  

“We’ve heard that people have said they’ve felt faint walking to the bus stop and had to sit down, or just had increased bouts of difficulty breathing or dizziness,” Kron said. “They don’t know exactly what’s causing that. And they deserve that information.”

The lawsuit is asking U.S. Steel to release the information, and states the federal government could fine the company up to $55,000 per day for each violation. 

A company spokeswoman said the company doesn’t comment on litigation. 

A spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department, citing a separate lawsuit the county has filed with the company over emissions during the outage, declined to comment. 

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.