Code Orange Again in Pennsylvania

Beautiful fall weather in western Pennsylvania has been tainted by four ‘Code Orange’ air alert days in a row.

11-9-20 UPDATE: Four Five air quality alerts in a row!

CODE ORANGE ADVISORY - Air quality action day - Members of sensitive groups may experience health effects.

For the fourth day in a row, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection forecasts a Code Orange Air Quality Action Day warning for particulate matter — PM 2.5 — for Sunday, November 8 in these areas of Pennsylvania:

— Western: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Fayette, Washington, and Westmoreland counties;
— Southcentral: Cumberland, Dauphin, Lancaster, Lebanon, and York counties;
— Lehigh Valley: Berks, Lehigh, and Northampton counties; and
— Southeast: Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties.

A strong ridge of high pressure will remain over Pennsylvania through Sunday. Strong morning temperature inversions and weak winds will contribute to concentrations of fine particulate matter in the Code Orange range throughout the day

The highest concentrations are most likely to occur between 3:00 AM and 10:00 AM. Concentrations may decrease during the afternoon, but not enough to keep daily average concentrations below the Code Orange range.

An air quality action day, which is determined based on the forecasted air quality index, means air pollutants are at unhealthy levels for vulnerable populations

On these days, young children, the elderly, and those with respiratory problems, such as asthma, emphysema, and bronchitis, are especially vulnerable to the effects of air pollution and should limit outdoor activities.

Residents and businesses within the Air Quality Action Day area are strongly encouraged to voluntarily help reduce air pollution by: 
— Reducing or eliminating fireplace and wood stove use;
— Avoiding the open burning of leaves, trash and other materials; and
— Avoiding the use of gas-powered lawn and garden equipment.

Source: PA Environment Digest Blog

Allegheny County includes the communities of: Liberty, Clairton, Port Vue, Lincoln and Glassport. Clairton is home to US Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, where coal is ‘baked’ to prepare it for the steelmaking process. Map Source

In the meantime, US Steel is backpedaling on recent commitments to upgrade 3 Monongahela Valley facilities…

Allegheny County Board of Health votes to open comment period on proposed coke oven rules
The Allegheny County Board of Health will take public comment on more stringent rules proposed for coke oven gas emissions at U.S. Steel Corp.’s Clairton Coke Works.
After listening to more than a dozen speakers both for and against the proposed rules Wednesday, the board voted, 6-1, to follow the recommendations of health department staff and the department’s Air Quality Advisory Committee and open the draft rules for a 60-day comment period. No date was set for the start of the comment period.
The vote occurred against the backdrop of Friday’s announcement by U.S. Steel CEO David Burritt that the Pittsburgh-based steelmaker could decide to cancel its promised $1.5 billion upgrade of three Mon Valley Works facilities and invest the money elsewhere.

By Don Hopey – Pittsburgh Post-Gazette – November 4, 2020
Meantime, U.S. Steel claims to be guided by what they call “The Gary Principles”…

I believe that when a thing is right, it will ultimately and permanently succeed.
The highest rewards come from honest and proper practice. Bad results come in the long run from selfish, unfair and dishonest conduct.

I believe in competition…that the race should be won by the swiftest, and that success should come to him who is most earnest and active and persevering.
I believe that no industry can permanently succeed that does not treat its employees equitably and humanely.
I believe thoroughly in publicity. The surest and wisest of all regulation is public opinion.
If we are to succeed in business, we must do it on principles that are honest, fair, lawful and just.
We must put and keep ourselves on a platform so fair, so high, so reasonable, that we will attract the attention and invite and secure the approval of all who know what we are doing.
We do not advocate combinations or agreements in restraint of trade, nor action of any kind which is opposed to the laws or to the public welfare.

We must never forget that our rights and interests are and should be subservient to the public welfare, that the rights and interests of the individual must always give way to those of the public.

Source: United States Steel Corporation – Code of Ethical Business Conduct

Demand that U.S. Steel invest in healthy communities, clean air, and jobs for the future.
The problem is that the air we breathe is the eighth worst in the country, according to a recent report by the American Lung Association. A major source of pollution in the Pittsburgh region can be traced to U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works, southeast of the city. This facility still uses equipment that dates to the 1950s, so it should be no surprise when that equipment malfunctions and breaks down. MORE

The Allegheny County Board of Health’s decision coincides with Wednesday’s release of a peer-reviewed study that shows children living near air pollution sources — such as the Clairton Coke Works — have asthma rates nearly 3-times the national average…

Asthma prevalence and control among schoolchildren residing near outdoor air pollution sites
Outdoor air pollution (OAP) contributes to poor asthma outcomes and remains a public health concern in Pittsburgh. The purpose of this study was to determine the prevalence of childhood asthma and its rate of control among Pittsburgh schoolchildren residing near OAP sites.
Conclusions: These results demonstrate that asthma prevalence and poor disease control are significantly elevated in Pittsburgh schoolchildren exposed to high levels of OAP. Future efforts need to focus on primary prevention of asthma by reducing exposure to OAP in at risk populations.

Source: Journal of Asthma
In northwestern Pennsylvania, observers saw huge drops in Benzene levels when the Erie Coke Plant closed…

Air Quality Near Erie Coke Showing Significant Improvement
The latest readings cover the period from January 2 to January 15. That’s the first set of readings that have been released where the plant was shut down for every day of the testing period. “So these results are actually lower than the average benzene concentration on an urban environment in the United States. So definitely, things are trending in the right way and the Erie community should feel a little safer,” says Tom Decker, DEP Northwest Communications Officer.

By John Last – Erie News Now – February 6, 2020
Looking at another coke plant shutdown…

Experts paint bleak picture of what Tonawanda Coke left behind
“It’s a high-risk location,” said Rebecca Newberry, executive director of the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York. Heating crushed bituminous coal to ultra-hot temperatures in the absence of oxygen produced coke, but it also purged other elements from the coal. Among them: coal tar, an ammonia liquor and light oil that mostly consists of benzene as well as toluene and xylene. Some of these byproducts are flammable and potentially explosive, and they’re known carcinogens. The study also found contaminated sediment in the Niagara River. The location now is classified as a state Superfund site. Elevated levels of cyanide were detected in soil and groundwater. There are also heavy metals like arsenic, lead and mercury.

By T.J. Pignataro – The Buffalo News – November 14, 2018
Industry likes to talk about how much our air quality has improved in the Pittsburgh region, but a string of four days in November with Code Orange air quality alerts is cause for concern, especially since air pollution is so easily trapped in our river valleys.
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