Representatives of several environmental groups took their fight against the Shenango Inc. coke works on Neville Island to Pittsburgh City Council last week, asking council to pass a resolution calling for stepped-up enforcement of air-quality standards by the Allegheny County Health Department.
It was just the latest stop on a tour aimed at putting pressure on the health department.
“We don’t believe the Allegheny County Health Department is doing its job, at least not for us citizens,” said Ted Popovich, a Ben Avon resident and co-founder of Allegheny County Clean Air Now, who blames pollution from the plant in part for his cardiovascular disease that resulted in a quintuple bypass surgery.
“This place needs to clean up its act or maybe even shut down. We are hurt, we are harmed by its presence. They don’t care. … All they’re concerned about is profit and not our lives.”
Mr. Popovich and eight other clean-air advocates also met Feb. 4 with Shawn Garvin, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region 3 administrator, in Philadelphia to take their concerns to a “higher power.”
“The residents expressed their concerns about living next to the facility,” said Roy Seneca, an EPA spokesman, adding that Mr. Garvin visits Pittsburgh several times a year. “He wanted to let the residents know he would continue to have an open ear for their concerns. … EPA continues to work with the health department on improving operations at the Shengano coke works facility to help them achieve and maintain Clean Air Act compliance.”
Shenango, owned by Detroit-based DTE Energy since 2008, has been the subject of numerous lawsuits and consent orders going back decades.
Last year, Pittsburgh’s Group Against Smog and Pollution filed a Clean Air Act lawsuit against DTE, contending that the company’s promised improvements wouldn’t do enough to curb emissions. It came a month after the county filed an enforcement action in Common Pleas Court that was settled for a $300,000 civil penalty and what the company says were more than $750,000 in pollution controls.
Though it has improved, the Pittsburgh area still has some of the worst fine-particle pollution in the nation, partly the result of diesel engine emissions and energy production but also because of major industrial sources, including U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Works in Braddock and its Clairton coke works as well as the Shenango plant.
“Shenango as well as all the major sources of air pollution are a priority for the health department. Certainly we have taken a significant number of actions at Shenango in the past,” said Jim Thompson, the county’s deputy director of environmental health. “We are continuing to monitor Shenango’s compliance to determine if any further action is necessary.”
Randi Berris, a spokeswoman for DTE, said the Shenango plant is in compliance with the consent agreement it struck with the county last year.
“These individuals and groups that are trying to focus attention on Shenango are ignoring the facts,” she said, noting that the plant was “97 percent compliant” on “pushing emissions,” which happen when the coke — blast furnace fuel that is produced by baking coal — is pushed out of ovens and doused with water to cool.
“While we strive to be 100 percent compliant, 100 percent of the time, we are within our limits as set within that consent agreement,” she said.
The county inspects the facility, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, on a daily basis, Ms. Berris added.
She noted that Shenango operates a single coke battery, while the Clairton works, the largest coke-producing facility in the United States, operates 10.
“Operating perfectly, the emissions from Clairton are 10 times that of Shenango,” Mr. Thompson said.
The county entered into a consent order with U.S. Steel in September, after the Clairton works had been in continuous violation of its emissions limits for at least two years.
Asked whether the companies were doing everything they could to cut toxic emissions, he called it a “tough question to answer.”
“They breathe the same air we are,” he said. “I believe they certainly care about air pollution, but on the other hand they are for-profit companies. In general, they will do what is required, but I do not believe they will go significantly beyond what is required by law.”
Robert Zullo: email@example.com or 412-263-3909. Twitter: @rczullo.