A dozen protesters presented the Shenango Inc. coke works with a glass window Friday morning to make clear to the owners that they have concerns about emissions.
The tongue-in-cheek demonstration celebrated the “First Annual Closed Window Award,” which activist Tom Hoffman said was bestowed on “the [pollution] source that has been the most creative and successful in preventing Allegheny County residents from opening their windows.”
Emissions from the Neville Island plant have “really affected the quality of life here,” said Kathleen Krebs, a Brighton Heights resident and member of community group Allegheny Clean Air Now.
Coke ovens produce a hotter-burning fuel made from coal; they can also emit various toxins along with odors and smoke. Last spring, the plant’s owner — DTE Energy of Detroit — pledged to address pollution issues in a consent agreement with the Allegheny County Health Department. But demonstrators said there has been little progress.
“There were more days than I could count last summer that I had to bring my children inside,” said Leah Andrascik, a mother of two in Avalon.
“We breathe the same air at Shenango, and we feel we’ve improved its environmental performance since buying it in 2008,” said DTE spokeswoman Erica Donerson. She cited a marked reduction in emissions from “pushing,” when coke is disgorged from the oven, among the benefits stemming from a $1.5 million investment last year.
As for protesters, she said, “They either don’t want to believe the data, or it’s never good enough.”
Shenango’s “compliance has greatly improved” since last year, said Jim Thompson, deputy director of environmental health for the county health department.
Mr. Thompson noted that in response to community concerns, the county recently installed eight additional air monitors in nearby neighborhoods. While odors can reflect the presence of dangerous chemicals, he said, “You smell it well before there’s a health effect. The plant could be at 100 percent compliance but still be emitting some sort of odor.”
The Group Against Smog and Pollution filed a lawsuit over Shenango’s emissions last year, and while GASP Executive Director Rachel Filippini said the plant has improved in some areas, “our concerns remain.” The density of smoke from the oven’s smokestack remains an ongoing problem, she and Mr. Thompson said.
Still, Ms. Filippini added, “I can’t help but think all this attention is keeping the pressure on.”
Chris Potter: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2533.