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Environmental Groups Call For Clairton Coke Works Closure To Protect At-Risk Residents With Respiratory Problems Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

CLAIRTON, Pa. (KDKA) - Across the country, coronavirus shutdowns have created less air pollution as fewer people drive and factories close.

But that's not the case everywhere.

After workers complained of crowded buses and dirty porta-potties, the Beaver County cracker plant construction remains in shutdown-mode as Shell sanitizes the site and union leader wait for word of its reopening.

It'll be at least two weeks.

Now some environmental groups are asking U.S. Steel to shut down the Clairton Coke Works to protect workers and nearby residents with respiratory problems who are at risk with the coronavirus.

Satellite pictures of China have shown how measures to combat the coronavirus have had a dramatic effect in air quality around the world. In Allegheny County, air monitors have consistently shown good quality air readings for the past two weeks.

That is until this morning, when the Mon Valley monitor registered a code orange — a danger for people with medical conditions.

Thursday, local environmental groups called on U.S. Steel to at least temporarily shutdown the Clairton Coke Works.

"We would think that that industry needs to go the extra measure just like all of us have in the economy to protect our health," said Matthew Mehalik of the Breathe Project.


Steel making is considered an essential activity and is exempted from Govenor Wolf's shutdown order.

But, environmentalists say the emissions are a threat to people with respiratory problem who may contract the virus and the steelmaker should stop production until the health crisis lifts.

They are not suggesting that an economic shutdown is the answer to our air pollution problems.

"We want to see air quality be improved while people are working," said Mehalik. "That means businesses that do emit investing in pollution control equipment and abiding by regulations."

In exempting the plant from closure, the Wolf administration calls steel making an essential activity and in a statement, U.S. Steel says it is doing all that can be done to protect both workers and the community short of shutting down.

U.S. Steel also says that spike in bad air dissipated this morning and air quality in the valley has been good the rest of the day.

"Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 situation, our first priority has been and will continue to be the safety and welfare of employees, their families and communities. We have been communicating with employees regularly and instructed numerous programs and precautions, following the guidelines provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," U.S. Steel said in a statement.

Meanwhile, construction continues on an AHN medical facility in the North Hills and union leaders say they'd like to see those construction workers keep on working under safe and sanitary conditions.

Still at this point, construction sites are few and far between. Union leaders say they're now looking at between 60 and 70 percent unemployment.

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