Allegheny Co. hits U.S. Steel with historic $1.8M fine for ‘rotten egg’ pollution

Exposure to hydrogen sulfide can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory system, according to the CDC

By: - March 8, 2022 2:58 pm

By Jordana Rosenfeld
The Allegheny County Health Department has issued U.S. Steel a fine of over $1.8 million for emissions it says causes a “rotten egg” smell and created “longstanding quality of life complaints from residents.”

County officials announced the fine on Monday, finding that U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Plant had logged more than 2,000 Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) hourly exceedances in the 153 days between Jan. 1, 2020 and March 1, 2022. The exceedances were recorded at the Liberty Borough air monitoring station.

H2S is a pollutant known for its distinctive rotten-egg smell, according to the Health Department. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says exposure to hydrogen sulfide can cause irritation of the eyes and respiratory system, among other maladies.

The fine is the first penalty issued by the Health Department against a single source for H2S exceedances, and it comes after a March 3 study in which the Health Department identified U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Plant as the sole source of the H2S exceedances at the Liberty Monitor.

U.S. Steel says it disputes the Health Department’s assertions that there are no other sources contributing to the H2S exceedances. “We also dispute ACHD’s assertions that there is no evidence that other sources affect the Liberty monitor H2S concentrations and that the H2S exceedances are attributed entirely to emissions from our Clairton plant,” U.S. Steel spokesperson Amanda Malkowski writes in an email.

“Any resolution of the regional H2S issue must consider all sources of H2S that impact the Liberty air monitor,” Malkowski adds. “US Steel has attempted to study all impacts and identify all contributing factors of H2S at the Liberty air monitor jointly with ACHD, but those efforts have been unsuccessful. US Steel remains committed to doing its fair share to protect the air quality in the communities in which we live and operate.”

ACHD declined to comment on U.S. Steel’s criticism, calling the dispute an ongoing legal matter. The March 3 report, however, details the methodology behind ACHD’s determination.

“The ACHD compared H2S concentrations measured at the Liberty monitor originating from all measured wind directions under different meteorological conditions including wind speeds, strong inversions, and stagnant air events,” the report reads. ACHD says it detected measurable H2S concentrations coming from only one direction, south-southwest of the Liberty Monitor.

Since the ACHD receives annual emissions reports from permitted air emission sources, the report indicates the Health Department was able to determine that U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works and the Clairton Wastewater Treatment Plant were the only two H2S sources south-southwest of the monitor.

The county health department then gathered data from portable gas sensors placed in multiple places along the treatment plant’s property line and were able to determine that the treatment plant was not responsible for the H2S exceedances.

Jordana Rosenfeld is a reporter for Pittsburgh City Paper, where this story first appeared

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