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U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works in Pennsylvania, USA

U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works in Pittsburgh, PA lacks compliance with permits and failed to update outdated equipment, leading to two recent fires and continued emissions of sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and benzene, placing residents at risk.


Clairton Coke Works, built in 1901, is the largest coke manufacturing facility in North America, producing 4.3 million tons of coke each year. The plant functions through heating coal to high temperatures, which burns off the volatiles and converts it into a pure carbon form known as coke. The byproducts of this process include oven gas, tar, ammonium sulfate, benzol, toluol and naphtha. Once the coke has been produced, it is shipped to other facilities to be used as a fuel for smelting iron and steel [1]. The facility has been accused (and sued) by civil society organizations of committing over 6,700 air pollution violations within a three and a half year period, making it one of the biggest sources of air pollution in the Monongahela Valley and in all of Western Pennsylvania.

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Basic Data
Name of conflict:U.S. Steel's Clairton Coke Works in Pennsylvania, USA
Country:United States of America
State or province:Pennsylvania
Location of conflict:Clairton
Accuracy of locationMEDIUM (Regional level)
Source of Conflict
Type of conflict. 1st level:Industrial and Utilities conflicts
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Coal extraction and processing
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Metal refineries
Manufacturing activities
Specific commodities:Coal
Iron ore
Recycled Metals
Project Details and Actors
Project details

Clairton Coke Works produces 4.3 million tons of coke annually, operating ten battery ovens. The Mon Valley air monitors exceeded the Allegheny Country daily standard for fine particle (PM 2.5) a total of 195 times between 2007 and 2018, while the monitors outside of Mon Valley only exceeded the standard 31 times during the same period. The Mon Valley air monitors exceeded the Allegheny Country hourly standard for sulfur dioxide 207 times between 2010 and 2018, and the monitors outside of Mon Valley only exceeded the standard eight times during the same period. The Allegheny County Health Department Survey 2015-2016 reported a 15% asthma rate within the entire county, with minority populations suffering the highest rates. Asthma rates were 22% for African-Americans and 20% for people with annual incomes under $25,000. In Allegheny County, 23% of residents felt that there was “a lot” of risk from air pollution. These numbers increased for African-Americans (31%) and people with incomes under $25,000/year (29%). It is difficult to obtain a total value for the people affected as air pollution travels and is dispersed due to wind and weather patterns, but Allegheny County municipalities consider 126,934 individuals within the county to be “most impacted” by Clairton Coke Works. U.S. Steel announced a $1.5 billion investment in May 2019 to improve their compliance of emission standards by 2022, but this does not represent the total level of investment since 1901 [1, 2, 9]. There are growing concerns that US Steel will not follow through with its investment, as it has already been reduced on multiple occasions, and the investment project has been delayed.

Project area:N/A
Level of Investment for the conflictive projectNot yet known
Type of populationSemi-urban
Affected Population:> 126,934
Company names or state enterprises:United States Steel Corporation from United States of America
Relevant government actors:Environmental Protection Agency
Allegheny County Health Department
PA Department of Environmental Protection
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:PennFuture (
PennEnvironment (
CleanWaterAction (
CleanAirCouncil (
Environmental Integrity Project
Conflict & Mobilization
IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stageMobilization for reparations once impacts have been felt
Groups mobilizing:Neighbours/citizens/communities
Social movements
Ethnically/racially discriminated groups
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Public campaigns
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Environmental ImpactsVisible: Air pollution, Fires, Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Noise pollution
Potential: Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Soil contamination, Soil erosion, Waste overflow, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Groundwater pollution or depletion, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Other Environmental impacts, Global warming
Other Environmental impactsEmissions for ozone, particulate matter 2.5, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen sulfide, and carbon monoxide, as well as carcinogens such as benzene.
Health ImpactsVisible: Accidents, Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide, Occupational disease and accidents, Deaths, Other environmental related diseases
Potential: Exposure to unknown or uncertain complex risks (radiation, etc…), Health problems related to alcoholism, prostitution, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsAsthma and respiratory distress, sinus problems, cancer, heart disease, and nervous system damage.
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Displacement, Loss of livelihood, Loss of landscape/sense of place
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Lack of work security, labour absenteeism, firings, unemployment, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Social problems (alcoholism, prostitution, etc..), Other socio-economic impacts
Other socio-economic impactsNeighbors of Clairton Coke Works are "tired mentally, physically, and spiritually of the health impacts of this plan."
Project StatusStopped
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Environmental improvements, rehabilitation/restoration of area
Court decision (victory for environmental justice)
Negotiated alternative solution
Technical solutions to improve resource supply/quality/distribution
Under negotiation
Application of existing regulations
New Environmental Impact Assessment/Study
Allegheny County judge approved a settlement to resolve the class action lawsuit regarding pollution that created a "nuisance and hurt nearby property values." U.S. Steel paid $2 million to residents in the class, with about half used to pay attorney fees. U.S. Steel must also pay $6.5 million towards environmental improvement projects at the Clairton Coke Works facility: installing air coolers, and implementing battery machinery and refractory improvements. “They’re going to reduce the emissions, and hopefully improve the quality of life in the class area. But we also aren’t releasing any future claims, so that if there are continued issues in the future, people can go ahead and sue again,” said plaintiff attorney Nick Coulson, of Detroit-based law firm Liddle & Dubin, PC." [10]
Proposal and development of alternatives:N/A
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:No
Briefly explain:Although U.S. Steel has agreed to pay both affected residents of Clairton and put money towards making the Clairton plant more environmentally friendly, residents of Clairton and areas affected by the plant are still calling for more action and are not yet satisfied. Clairton Coke Works has yet to receive the investment that US Steel has announced towards updating and improving Mon Valley facilities, and it is unknown when this investment project will start—and how much money Mon Valley plants such as Clairton will receive. The plant also has not responded to all demands of the #ToxicNeighbor Campaign.
Sources & Materials

[1] United States Steel Corporation
[click to view]

[2] Pittsburgh Community Reinvestment Corporation
[click to view]

[3] USA Demographic Data
[click to view]

[4] Allegheny Front
[click to view]

[5] PennEnvironment
[click to view]

[6] PennFuture
[click to view]

[7] Lawsuits Against U.S. Steel Resolution
[click to view]

[8] Lawsuits Against U.S. Steel
[click to view]

[9] Clean Water Action Impact Report
[click to view]

[10] Class action settlement delivers $2 million to residents living near Clairton Coke Works
[click to view]

[11] U.S. Steel's $1.5 billion investment in Mon Valley Works in Question?
[click to view]

[12] US Steel plans to slow investment in local upgrades, repairs.
[click to view]

Meta information
Contributor:Taylor Goodell, Skidmore College, [email protected]; Amity Wilson, Skidmore College, [email protected]; Andrew J. Schneller, Ph.D.; Skidmore College Environmental Studies and Sciences Program
Last update30/09/2020
Conflict ID:5193
Legal notice / Aviso legal
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