The ArcelorMittal coke plant in Monessen, Pa.

MONESSEN, PA.—On August 4, NELC announced it had served ArcelorMittal, the world’s largest steelmaker, with a notice of intent to sue under the federal Clean Air Act. The suit would address hundreds of alleged air pollution violations at the company’s Monessen coke plant that are fouling the air over a wide swath of western Pennsylvania.

The notice, sent on behalf of PennEnvironment and its members, alleges that residents of numerous towns surrounding the plant have been showered with soot, acidic gases, and noxious odors beginning the day Arcelor restarted the idled, decades-old Monessen coke plant in April 2014. Many of these residents have, in turn, showered the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection with complaints.

“I’ve met with many residents of Monessen, Donora, Monongahela, and other towns in the vicinity of this facility, and they all tell the same story,” said David Masur, director of PennEnvironment. “Ever since this plant re-opened, the odors and soot have diminished their quality of life and they fear for their health and the health of their families. We cannot stand by and let this situation continue.”

Coke plants use a series of massive ovens, called “batteries,” to heat coal and turn it into coke, an ingredient used in the steel-making process. Coke production creates significant amounts of toxic gases and fine particulates that, if not properly contained and/or treated, can cause serious environmental and public health problems when released into the atmosphere.

The Monessen plant, located along the Monongahela River about 30 miles south of Pittsburgh, has two coke batteries, consisting of 56 ovens—each oven more than 12 feet tall—that process hundreds of thousands of tons of coal each year. The plant operates 24/7 and produces about 900 tons of coke each day. The coke is then shipped to Arcelor’s various North American steel plants.

“Ever since this plant re- opened, the odors and soot have diminished residents’ quality of life. They fear for their health.”

—David Masur, director of PennEnvironment

NELC’s notice letter alleges a wide range of violations at the Monessen plant, including:

  • repeatedly operating the plant while a key air pollution control device is out of service;
  • persistently exceeding emission limits on 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); and
  • failing to install a mandatory continuous monitoring device needed to measure the amount of certain pollutants in its emissions.

Some of Arcelor’s emissions have been as much as eight times higher than the legally allowable limits.

The Clean Air Act’s “citizen suit” provision allows private individuals and organizations to sue violators in federal court after first providing the violator and state and environmental regulatory agencies with 60 days’ notice of their intent to sue.

At press time, the company, which is headquartered in Luxembourg and has annual revenues of more than $80 billion, had not responded to NELC’s letter. The lawsuit would be filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh.