[PITTSBURGH, PA] – Representatives of the citizen-based non-profit group PennEnvironment initiated a federal lawsuit today against the world’s largest steel company, ArcelorMittal, to address hundreds of ongoing violations of the federal Clean Air Act at the company’s Pittsburgh-area coke plant.
The lawsuit addresses a wide variety of alleged problems at ArcelorMittal USA’s Monessen Coke Plant, located twenty-five miles south of Pittsburgh on the banks of the Monongahela River. Residents of numerous surrounding towns have been showered with soot, acidic gases, and noxious odors since the idled, decades-old facility was re-started in April 2014. Those most severely affected live in Westmoreland and Washington counties in the municipalities of Monessen, Donora, Monongahela, and Carroll Township.
“Ever since the Monessen Coke Plant re-opened last year, local residents have had their quality of life diminished, have endured ongoing odors and soot, and have had to fear for their health,” said David Masur, Executive Director of PennEnvironment. “It is not acceptable that the world’s largest steel company, which brings in $80 billion annually, hasn’t found a way to comply with our cornerstone environmental laws.”
The Clean Air Act’s “citizen suit” provision allows private individuals and organizations to sue violators in federal court after first providing 60 days’ notice of their intent to file suit and of the violations to be addressed in the suit. The complaint was filed today in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, after PennEnvironment and its members sent the required notice to ArcelorMittal, as well as to state and federal regulators, on August 4, 2015.
“In the past 60 days, I have called and complained to the DEP 12 times because of the foul odors and air pollution that continue to emanate from the Monessen Coke Plant,” said Viktoryia Maroz, a resident of Donora. “This poisoning of the public has to stop.”
In an attempt to resolve the plant’s air pollution violations and bring relief to local residents as quickly and efficiently as possible, PennEnvironment is initiating discussions with ArcelorMittal, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with the goal of trying to jointly develop solutions that will bring the plant into sustained compliance with Clean Air Act emissions standards and limitations without extended litigation.
“The public needs and deserves an advocate to stand up on their behalf,” noted Masur. “PennEnvironment has the expertise and track record with cases like this to get the right results for the people of Pennsylvania.”
PennEnvironment’s complaint seeks a court order requiring the Monessen Coke Plant to comply with its Clean Air Act permit, as well as civil penalties against ArcelorMittal to punish it for past violations and to deter future violations.
The Monessen Coke Plant’s 56 coke battery ovens heat coal at high temperatures to produce nearly 1,000 tons per day of coke, a form of carbon that is used to turn molten iron into steel. Coke from the Monessen plant is shipped to ArcelorMittal’s various North American steel mills.
The production of coke creates massive amounts of toxic, chemical-laden gases and fine particulate pollutants that, if not properly contained and treated, can cause serious environmental and public health problems when released to the surrounding environment.
The complaint alleges a wide range of violations at ArcelorMittal’s Monessen Coke Plant, including:
· Operating the plant for days and weeks at a time while a key air pollution control device was out of service;
· Approximately 226 violations of the facility’s pollution limits for hydrogen sulfide (a toxic gas with a foul odor), sulfur dioxide (a respiratory irritant and contributor to acid rain), and particulate matter (which can lodge in the lungs and exacerbate respiratory problems);
· Failure to install a required monitoring device that tracks the amount of hydrogen sulfide coming from the facility’s smokestacks.
At times, violations have been so egregious that ArcelorMittal’s emission levels have been up to eight times higher than the legally allowable limits.
ArcelorMittal USA is headquartered in Chicago. Its parent company is headquartered in Luxembourg and has annual revenues of over $80 billion.