Pollution group says it will sue coke works

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Shenango, the coke works plant on Neville Island, had air pollution violations on Oct. 6, 2012, compliance reports from the Allegheny County Health Department showed. And on Feb. 10, 2013. And Sept. 19, 2013, too.

In all, when members of the Group Against Smog and Pollution reviewed Shenango compliance reports covering a 432-day period from July 26, 2012 to Sept. 30, 2013, the environmental organization found that on 330 of those days, there were one or more air violations at the facility.

"The point is, hardly a day goes by where there is not some violation at the plant," said Joe Osborne, GASP's legal director.

The group decided enough was enough.

Last Thursday, members of GASP, along with other community groups and residents who live in the area, joined together to send a message to Shenango: The coke works facility must do more to clean up its air pollution emissions, and soon.

"We thought that it was necessary to take more action now to see that the violations are remedied," Mr. Osborne said Wednesday, when members of GASP held a conference call to announce they had filed an intent to sue Shenango.

The goal of the notice is to spur response by plant owner DTE Energy Services Inc. or regulators, but if the violations remain unsolved after 60 days, GASP representatives said they will bring the suit to federal court.

DTE spokeswoman Randi Berris said Wednesday the company had received the group's letter and is talking with the appropriate regulatory agencies and "we are working to resolve any issues." The company has owned the plant, opened in 1962, since 2008.

"The Health Department has a long history with Shenango and noncompliance," said Jim Thompson, deputy director of environmental health for the department.

In 2012, Shenango was required to pay a $1.75 million penalty following a consent agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Allegheny County Health Department over air and water pollution violations dating to 2005. But the coke works has been the subject of air pollution complaints dating back three decades.

The current violations include at least 264 days when emissions from the combustion stack violated opacity standards, at least 81 days when emissions from pushing operations violated opacity standards, and at least 12 days when combusted coke oven gas exceeded hydrogen sulfide limits.

Ms. Berris said that since 2008, the company has spent $8 million on capital improvements to the plant and plans to spend another $34 million through 2017, she said, with projects currently underway to improve stormwater and wastewater handling and to fix oven walls.

Overall improvements at the facility have resulted in a "dramatic improvement in environmental performance," she said, though the company is not yet in full compliance with all county, state and federal regulations.

Mr. Thompson estimated the coke works is at about 60 to 70 percent compliance and has "a long way to go."

He said daily inspections by the county show improvements in some areas, such as the combustion stack, but in other areas, such as the pushing process, the situation has gotten worse.


Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1707. First Published February 12, 2014 12:22 PM

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