Western Pennsylvania residents sue steel company for air pollution

Steel company purportedly violated its air permit thousands of times

Western Pennsylvania residents sue steel company for air pollution


By Lyle Adriano

Residents of Clairton, Pennsylvania, have filed a class-action lawsuit against US Steel claiming that the company’s Clairton Coke Works has lowered property values in the region through its air pollution byproduct.

The mill violated its air permit 6,700 times between 2012 and 2015. Although the Allegheny County Health Department reached a new consent decree with US Steel to reduce pollution last year, the Mon Valley area continues to fail federal air quality standards for sulfur dioxide and fine particulates – pollutants which can cause lung problems, among other health issues.

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The coke plant was originally viewed as an economic boon to locals of the region, offering job opportunities for all. But the mill produced air pollutants, which worried residents who lived in adjacent wealthier communities such as Mount Lebanon and Upper St. Clair. When Clairton was approached regarding this matter, residents whose livelihoods were built around the mill ignored the protests and concerns of their neighbors.

Over time, however, many Clairton locals became painfully aware of the potential health effects of the plant’s byproducts, and have since reconsidered their attitudes toward the business.

“In my own family, my dad died of cancer of the trachea,” local Richard Ford told Public Radio International. “I had a daughter that died at the age of 25 with scleroderma. My son passed away this past October from prostate cancer.”

“It’s an awareness now that’s just sparked in us. And we’re ready to listen now and try to do something about it because it’s so apparent to us,” Ford added.

Although air quality around the area has improved since the plant opened, Clairton’s cancer rates are some of the highest in the county. Alarmingly, the mill’s emissions also blow toward nearby Braddock (a community that also has its own US Steel plant), which has cancer rates twice as high as any other region in the county.

While data suggests that there is a high correlation between the region’s mounting cancer rates and the emissions coming from US Steel’s plant, it can be difficult to prove.

Allegheny County Health Department deputy director of environmental health Jim Kelly says that there are so many reason people can get cancer, especially in low-income areas.

“You have high smoking rates. You’ve got old housing stock, with lots of asbestos — lung cancer right there. You have low education. You have high unemployment. You have high obesity rates. All of these things are correlated with [increased cancer rates],” Kelly explained.

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