Allegheny County reaches consent agreement with Neville Island coke plant to reduce pollution


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Shenango Inc. will pay a $600,000 civil penalty and has agreed to an accelerated schedule of plant improvements to correct chronic pollution violations at its Neville Island coke-making facility.

Under the consent agreement with the Allegheny County Health Department announced Tuesday, the company can reduce the penalty amount by half if it completes a "supplemental environmental project" to reduce fine particle emissions from its coke quenching process. Shenango said it also will spend $750,000 on equipment to reduce emissions from its 56 coke ovens and quenching tower.

The 52-year-old coke works, owned by DTE Energy Services since 2008, was in violation of county emissions standards on 330 days in a 432-day period ending Sept. 30, 2013. The settlement resolves those violations.

"This is an unprecedented agreement which ends Shenango's non-compliance and takes steps to ensure that the company does more to cut pollution," said county Executive Rich Fitzgerald in a news release.

A novel part of the settlement calls for the Health Department to assess the performance of the plant's air pollution controls daily, and limits coke production if Shenango's compliance with emissions limits falls, said Jim Thompson, Health Department deputy director for environmental health.

"The consent agreement directly ties plant production levels to environmental performance, providing a significant incentive for Shenango to reduce emissions and maintain compliance," Mr. Thompson said. "If performance falls below 90 percent we can order additional time be added to the coking process, resulting in less fugitive emissions and fewer ovens pushed."

DTE, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., issued a statement that said the agreement "sets an aggressive timeline," and will build on the company's on-going efforts to control emissions and bring it into compliance with the county regulations.

The agreement requires Shenango to install a shed extension to minimize the opening between the quench tower and the main shed by May 15; submit a comprehensive maintenance plan for the bag house that captures dust and particulate matter during the pushing process by May 31; and complete upgrades to the pushing emission control shed by June 30.

"This settlement recognizes the steps Shenango already has taken to reduce emissions and sets a clear path forward for how we will continue to improve environmental performance," Gary Gross, vice president of DTE Energy Services, said in the release. "We appreciate Allegheny County Health Department's partnership with Shenango, which has aided in our development of new and innovative engineering solutions."

But local citizen and environmental groups, including PennFuture, Clean Air Council and Clean Water Action, which have seen county and federal consent orders in 1980, 1993, 2000, 2005 and 2012 fail to solve Shenango's long-standing air pollution problem, remain skeptical.

The Shenango coke works employs 165 and bakes coal at high temperatures to produce more than 300 tons of metallurgical coke annually that is used in making steel. It is located on Neville Island, approximately five miles down the Ohio river from Pittsburgh's Point and less than a mile from the municipalities of Ben Avon, Avalon, Bellevue and Emsworth.

Emissions from coking facilities are among the most toxic of industrial emissions, and residents of those communities have higher than average mortality rates for respiratory disease, heart disease and lung cancer, health conditions linked to industrial emissions.

"From what we have learned, given Shenango Incorporated's history of chronic noncompliance and the substantial profits of their parent company, DTE Energy Services, the financial penalty in this agreement does not match the magnitude of the offense," Tom Hoffman, Western Pennsylvania director, Clean Water Action, said in a joint statement issued by the groups.

"The fact remains that Shenango cannot continue its pattern of reckless behavior. Shenango and Allegheny County Health Department must demonstrate a commitment to enforcing this agreement for the betterment of the community. We continue to be dedicated to advocating for the air our region needs for Pittsburgh to be a healthy, prosperous place to live."


Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983. First Published April 8, 2014 1:31 PM

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