Despite new $500M battery, Clairton plant over emission limit

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Fifteen months after firing up a new battery of environmentally friendlier ovens at its Clairton coke plant, U.S. Steel has failed to bring the new facility into compliance with Allegheny County emission standards.

"They are not greatly over the limit, but they are currently not in compliance," said Jim Thompson, deputy director of the county health department.

Mr. Thompson said U.S. Steel did some work that was supposed to address excess emissions of pollutants from the $500 million battery.

"But that has not worked out," he said. "They need to come back to us with a new plan."

Mr. Thompson said he expects the company to do that as soon as possible.

U.S. Steel acknowledged the shortcoming in a securities filing this week. The Pittsburgh steel producer said it could not estimate what impact the solution will have on the company.

In a statement emailed Friday, the company said it is working with the health department and the equipment maker Uhde to resolve the issue. Uhde is part of Germany's Thyssen-Krupp Group.

In June, U.S. Steel issued a statement saying that it was "appropriate to anticipate" that it might take longer for "a complex innovative process to be fully implemented."

The new battery began operating Nov. 24, 2012. It was designed to enable Clairton, one of the biggest sources of air quality complaints in the region, to significantly reduce emissions and meet certain air quality standards months earlier than government officials targeted. The emissions include coal dust, small amounts of hazardous pollutants such as benzene and other fine particulates.

Steel producers use coke as fuel in blast furnaces. It is produced by baking coal in ovens at high temperatures. Clairton is North America's largest coke plant, producing about 4.5 million tons of the material each year. The new battery of ovens can produce about 960,000 tons annually.

Mr. Thompson said some of the excess emissions are being offset by improvements at another Clairton coke oven battery. New equipment has been installed to reduce emissions when coke is removed from those ovens and cooled in quenching towers, where it is sprayed with water.

Clairton is not the only coke problem U.S. Steel has. In its annual report filed Tuesday with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the steel maker said a new coke substitute plant at its Gary, Ind., Works is having performance issues.

The company disclosed it has told state environmental regulators that it "cannot certify that [the new equipment] is continually meeting the applicable emission limits."

Len Boselovic: or 412-263-1941.

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