Thomson mill put on notice for multiple violations
The Allegheny County Health Department and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced a joint enforcement action Tuesday against U.S. Steel Corp.’s Edgar Thomson mill in Braddock for multiple air pollution and equipment violations.
The joint “Notice of Violations” is based on observations beginning in February 2016 and continuing into 2017 of excessive visible emissions, and on the company’s failure to maintain equipment and failure to comply with the mill’s operating permit, known as a Title V permit, issued in April 2016.
In a news release, the health department said it “actively engaged” the EPA over the past nine months to take advantage of the federal agency’s expertise and
additional enforcement capacity.
“This notice of violation represents a strategic change in ACHD’s enforcement efforts by utilizing all of our legal options, which in this case is a joint action with EPA,” Karen Hacker, the health department director, said in the release.
“These violations must stop. U.S. Steel’s Edgar Thomson Plant must come into compliance to improve the air quality for the health of all county residents,” Dr. Hacker said. “The health of our county is paramount.”
The facility, which produces steel slabs, is classified as a “major stationary source” of air pollutants, and according to the health department, emits nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, coarse and fine particulates, sulfur oxides, carbon monoxide, and hazardous air pollutants, or “HAPs.”
According to the notice of violations, health department and EPA inspectors observed fugitive emissions on several occasions from numerous locations in the mill, including the basic oxygen process shop, scrubber stacks and blast furnaces. Some of the fugitive emissions occurred over multiple months because maintenance work was not completed.
In one case, inspectors observed fugitive emissions coming from near the top of the basic oxygen process shop in February 2016 and again in March 2017. Each time they were told by the company that the violation occurred because a door had been left open by maintenance workers.
Another violation cited a valve malfunction at the mill’s ladle metallurgical facility baghouse that “posed the substantial likelihood of release of potentially hazardous or toxic dust . . .”
The notice of violations is a first step and, according to the health department release, begins the process of determining the necessary penalties and required equipment improvements to return the plant to compliance with all federal and county air quality pollution requirements.
Meghan Cox, a U.S. Steel spokeswoman, said the company had received the notice “and will work with the ACHD and EPA to resolve any issues.”
The enforcement action comes just two weeks after more than a dozen county residents spoke at an Allegheny County Health Department board of directors meeting to complain about the ongoing pollution and smell associated with several Mon Valley industrial sites, including the Clairton Coke Works and the Edgar Thomson mill.
Jacqui Bonomo, president and chief executive officer of the statewide environmental organization PennFuture, said she is reserving judgment on the enforcement action.
“A true indication of the department’s intention will be revealed when we see the corrective action required of U.S. Steel at Edgar Thomson,” Ms. Bonomo said, “and when we see fines commensurate with the damage being done to the health of our communities.”