More than six months after firing up a new battery of coke ovens designed to reduce emissions from one of the region's most common sources of air quality complaints, U.S. Steel is still trying to bring the new equipment at its Clairton plant into compliance with county emissions requirements.
The Pittsburgh steel producer has asked the Allegheny County Health Department to give the company more time to comply with those standards.
"They have asked to extend the shakedown period," said Jim Thompson, manager of the department's air quality program. "As far as the plant itself, emissions are way down from where they were five years ago."
The new battery cost $500 million and was designed to enable the plant, a perennial source of air quality complaints, to significantly reduce emissions and meet certain air quality standards months earlier than government officials targeted. When U.S. Steel held a ceremony at the new battery in January, United Steelworkers union president Leo Gerard hailed it as "the most environmentally sound, emission-reducing coke plant probably anywhere in the world."
U.S. Steel began operating the new battery Nov. 24. In a prepared statement, the company said that is "appropriate to anticipate" that it might take longer for "a complex innovative process to be fully implemented."
The steelmaker said the county had granted its request to extend the deadline for complying with emissions standards until July 31. The company said it expects to meet all the requirements by that date except for one.
Mr. Thompson said the remaining problem are emissions that leak from the battery when coal is inserted into the ovens to begin baking it. The emissions include coal dust, small amounts of hazardous pollutants such as benzene, and other fine particulates, he said.
"In the last two weeks, it's gotten much better," Mr. Thompson said.
Clairton is North America's largest coke plant, producing about 4.5 million tons of the blast furnace fuel annually. The new battery can produce about 960,000 tons of the baked coal annually.
Mr. Thompson said the department is taking into account that the new battery relies on new technology. After U.S. Steel asked for more time to comply, the department asked it to provide additional information. Mr. Thompson said the steelmaker is expected to provide the data this week and that the department will then decide how to proceed.
Mr. Thompson said two new towers will be installed at Clairton later this year to reduce emissions from quenching hot coke with water. That is the last major project stemming from a 2008 consent decree in which U.S. Steel agreed to reduce emissions at Clairton, Mr. Thompson said.
U.S. Steel also experienced problems this year with a new coke plant at its Gary (Ind.) Works that relies on different technology. Chairman and CEO John P. Surma told analysts April 30 that the company had "encountered some challenges" at the front end of the equipment. Citing weak steel market conditions, Mr. Surma said the company was delaying building a second coke-making module at Gary until it resolved the issues with the first module.
Len Boselovic: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1941.