PennEnvironment Crowns A New No.1 On Its List Of Worst Air Polluters In Allegheny County

U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works leads the pack on the 2023 “Toxic Ten” — the list of companies responsible for most toxic air pollution by facilities here.
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PennEnvironment, an environmental nonprofit, has intermittently released its “Toxic Ten” ranking of the local companies with the greatest (worst?) impact on Allegheny County’s air quality since 2015. This year’s ranking crowns a new winner. 

U.S. Steel Clairton Coke Works in Clairton now ranks at the top of a list “no one wants to head,” PennEnvironment clean air advocate Zachary Barber announced at a press conference at the City-County Building Downtown on April 4. The full rankings along with an interactive map are available here

Zachary Barber Clean Air Advocate For Pennenvironment


“PennEnvironment’s latest review of the ‘Toxic Ten’ shows that these facilities churned out a whopping 80% of all toxic air pollution reported by facilities in Allegheny County,” said Barber in a press release. “If our local leaders rein in the Toxic Ten, we could make significant headway in reducing unhealthy air pollution in the Pittsburgh region.”

The report was co-authored with researchers from the Frontier Group, a research and policy group with offices around the country, and measures the amount of toxic chemicals released by local industrial facilities. Previous front-runner ATI Flat-Rolled Products in Brackenridge and fifth-place title holder Thermal Transfer Corp. in Duquesne now sit at second and third on the list, respectively. 

Clairton Coke Works came in at third place in the 2015, 2018 and 2021 rankings, but due to an uptick in their release of hydrogen sulfide, hydrogen cyanide and benzene, they made their way to the top, reports PennEnvironment. The title of worst air polluter in Allegheny County comes soon after U.S. Steel announced it would be taking steps to mitigate air pollution from its Clairton site. 

U.S Steel said on March 14 it would be closing three of its nine batteries throughout the next month, fulfilling a 2021 promise the company made to reduce emissions. 

Amanda Malkowski, media relations manager for U.S. Steel, released this statement in response to the PennEnvironmental report:

“In 2021, U. S. Steel’s Clairton Plant continued its relentless pursuit of environmental excellence. In a year where the Clairton Plant ramped up production to meet increased coke/steel demand, the plant continued to maintain its excellent environmental performance in terms of combustion stack and fugitive compliance. Furthermore, based on 2021 data, the nearby Liberty monitor was in attainment with National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for all criteria pollutants.

“These achievements, as well as other environmental progress demonstrate U. S. Steel’s commitment to Environmental Stewardship. U. S. Steel values our shared environment, employees and the communities in which we operate. Safety and environmental performance remain our top priorities, now and into the future.”

She said more information is available here:

 Barber explained, “We release this report to shine a spotlight on the facilities that are turning out the lion’s share of unhealthy emissions reported here in the county.

“And the good news is our local leaders have the tools they need to rein in the ‘Toxic Ten’ and so we hope this report and the recommendations in it will not only raise public awareness but push leaders to set health-based emission standards on these facilities.”

In 2013, a University of Pittsburgh study found that Allegheny County is in the top 2% nationally for cancer risk from air pollution. According to a report released by the Allegheny County Health Department in 2019, approximately 11% of Allegheny County children have asthma compared to 8% nationally and identified “poor outdoor air quality” as one of the root causes.

Geoffrey Rabinowitz, deputy director of the Allegheny County Health Department’s Bureau of Environmental Health, said much progress has been made in cleaning up the region’s air quality and the county continues to push for improvement.

“Over the past decade, Allegheny County has experienced about an 80% reduction in hazardous air pollutants and a 32% decrease in fine particulate pollution in the Mon Valley. Additionally, the county has reached EPA’s air quality attainment threshold for ozone, PM2.5 [particulate matter] and SO2 [sulfur dioxide]. Reaching these lower levels of pollution demonstrate that the county’s air quality is heading in the right direction,” he says.

‘The Health Department understands more work still needs to be done to further improve the air quality in Allegheny County and is committed to that work. The Air Quality Program will continue to work for cleaner air for residents through its monitoring, enforcement, permitting and planning efforts.”

The “Toxic Ten” list comes in the midst of the Allegheny County executive race; a new county leader would be elected in November. Barber says “we’re at a major inflection point” in terms of electing local leaders who plan to address air quality. 

“We hope that the next generation of the leaders in Allegheny County government — like the next county executive and the next health department director, whoever those people may be — will use this report to help set their agenda to ensure a clean, healthy future for Allegheny County residents.”

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