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Public input needed on use of U.S. Steel settlement funds

Public input needed on use of U.S. Steel settlement funds
Public input needed on use of U.S. Steel settlement funds 02:30

CLAIRTON, Pa. (KDKA) -- Mon Valley residents will get an opportunity to weigh in on how Allegheny County Economic Development uses the $2.25 million the agency is getting in a lawsuit settlement with U.S. Steel.

It was Christmas Eve 2018 when a fire broke out at U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works, knocking out pollution controls.

"U.S. Steel chose to run the plant for 100 days after that without these legally required pollution controls, and in that time residents in the community faced serious health problems, many went to the hospital with asthma issues," said Zachary Barber, clean air advocate with PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center.

U.S. Steel settled a lawsuit earlier this year with $4.5 million that will go to public health and air quality improvements in the Mon Valley. Over five years, Allegheny County Economic Development will get half of those payments, totaling $2.25 million. 

People who want to give their input can take a deep breath and speak up at a public hearing at the Clairton Municipal Building on Friday, May 17 at 5 p.m.

"So, that they can have not only a say in where the money goes but can reap the biggest benefits from this money," Barber said.

This has been a long time coming for Barber. The county health department, PennEnvironment, and other groups sued U.S. Steel in 2019.

"The things we hear over and over are that they can just go down their block and name people who died of cancer or who are suffering from serious health problems, they can't even count the number of people who have asthma and other respiratory problems, and they're frustrated that they feel like no one has listened to them, no one has taken this problem seriously," he said.

Barber believes this is an opportunity to turn that around.

Allegheny County Economic Development told KDKA-TV that this is just the first public hearing; there will be more public hearings.

Starting June 3, 501c3 nonprofits can apply for money to use for improvement projects.

Some ideas include helping people more easily access healthcare.

"Whether that's bringing more asthma care capacity closer into Clairton and the Mon Valley or finding other ways to help people tap into healthcare like that," Barber said.

Another idea is distributing air cleaning filters.

"That type of program would be an excellent use of this to help people reduce the amount of air pollution they're actually breathing," said Barber.

Barber hopes the Mon Valley will feel heard and breathe easier.

"It's really important that as many people as possible attend and speak up as part of this process," he said.

If you want to make your voice heard, add the public hearing to your plans for Friday evening, May 17. 

It starts at 5 p.m. at the Clairton Municipal Building but you can also join virtually or submit a survey online.

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