CMU project would measure Mon Valley air pollution

Thirty-five years after the Allegheny County Health Department recognized a need for more detailed information about emissions and pollution dispersal patterns in the Mon Valley from U.S. Steel Corp.’s Clairton Coke Works, it may finally get it.

At the request of the health department, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s department of mechanical engineering have proposed a three-year, $717,246 project that promises to better measure, map and model the complex valley wind and weather patterns and how they affect movement of emissions from the county’s biggest pollution source.

Jayme Graham, manager of the health department’s air program, told the department’s Air Pollution Control Advisory Committee on Monday that she was hired in 1981 to develop such a computer modeling program, but the technology wasn’t available then. Several attempts since have been unsuccessful.

“Our interest is in developing a model to better represent the complexities of the Mon Valley,” Ms. Graham said. “We’ll use it to refute or confirm the findings of our current modeling. We think that’s important when we’re asking [U.S. Steel] for $50 million or $100 million in [pollution] controls.”

The Pittsburgh-based steelmaker has spent $1.2 billion to upgrade its coke works in Clairton and reduce emissions but since 2012 has recorded more than 6,500 operational violations. Because of the coke plant’s emissions, Clairton and Liberty are in “non-attainment” of federal health-based limits for sulfur dioxide and fine airborne particulates, known as PM2.5.

Ms. Graham said the proposal needs the approval of the county Board of Health and will be on the agenda for its meeting March 2. The advisory committee, on a 4-4 vote with an abstention, did not recommend approval.

Coleen Davis, U.S. Steel’s representative on the committee, questioned the cost of CMU’s proposal, and said its three-year development time frame means it couldn’t be used to develop the county’s next State Implementation Plan. Federal regulations require county and state agencies to develop “SIPs” to reduce pollutants in non-attainment areas

“The technical concerns should be vetted with the technical committee before this moves forward,” said Ms. Davis, who chairs that committee.

Satbir Singh, leader of the CMU research team, said the new model would provide much better and more detailed information about the Mon Valley’s complex terrain and wind patterns than the one now used.

Money for the CMU project would be drawn from the county’s Clean Air Fund, which contains about $10 million in fine money for air pollution violations.

Don Hopey:, 412-263-1983 or on Twitter @donhopey.

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