Residents, Lawmakers give U.S. Steel an Earful Over Clairton Air Problems

US Steel and the Allegheny County Health department hear from Clairton residents and state lawmakers, angry over air quality violations from a Christmas Eve accident at the town's coke works.

The room was packed at the Clairton Municipal building today, as members of a joint Pennsylvania Senate and House Policy committee on improving air quality met for a public hearing on the air quality crisis that's boiling over in that town.

People gave U.S. Steel and the Allegheny County Health Department an earful over the December 24th fire at the Clairton Coke Works plant. The incident vented harmful levels of sulfur dioxide into the air above Clairton and neighboring communities. But neither the company nor the health department issued an air quality alert until January 8, after sulfur dioxide levels had violated federal standards for a sixth day.

"This is the last straw in this conversation," said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), observing that people in Clairton and the surrounding area have been dealing for years with air quality that's not up to standard. Costa serves on the joint committee.

Rep. Summer Lee (D-Allegheny) was also blunt. "You don't value us very much," she chided. Lee represents communities like Braddock, Rankin and Homestead that are just a few miles away from the plant.

The hearing also brought out Clairton Coke Works employees, who sat in the audience in their orange work coveralls, waving "Jobs Worth Fighting For" placards. They listened to their union president and the plant manager speak. Both sides fear more government regulation could cost steelworker jobs. "Without coke from the Clairton Works we wouldn't be able to operate," the other steel facilities in the area and beyond, testified Mike Rhoades, Clairton Coke Works Plant Manager.

Senator Costa, sought to calm those fears in a tweet he sent out even before the hearing began. "Today was about air quality. No one is out to eliminate jobs or harm steelworkers."

"We are all in this together, our public health depends on it." PA Sen. Jay Costa D-Allegheny

(Photos from Rep. Bill Kortz Facebook page and Sen. Jay Costa Facebook page )

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