Study Finds US Steel Clairton Coke Fire Worsened Asthma Symptoms
Pittsburgh Business Times reported that a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study found that asthma exacerbations increased after
Pittsburgh Business Times reported that a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health study found that asthma exacerbations increased after a fire at United States Steel Corp’s Clairton Coke Works in December 2018. The Christmas Eve 2018 fire in particular, which destroyed pollution controls, resulted in 102 days of sulfur dioxide emissions at levels 25 times greater than normal. Brandy Brywa-Hill, a PhD student in the school and lead author of the analysis, said “In addition to verifying that people living within a 10-mile radius of the coke works had higher rates of asthma exacerbations and use of albuterol rescue medication than those living outside the radius, we learned that nearly half of the people with asthma closest to the fire were unaware of the pollution problem, and therefore, unable to take steps to avoid exposure,”
The Heinz Endowments provided funding for the study, which was carried out through collaborations with the University of Pittsburgh Asthma and Environmental Lung Health Institute at UPMC and the Allegheny County Health Department. The study included information from 39 asthma patients who live within 10 miles of the plant and 44 asthma patients who live beyond that radius in the six weeks after the disaster. The authors reported that the patients who lived closest to the facility experienced an 80% increased risk of worsened symptoms compared to those furthest away from the plan. The study also revealed that 44% of participants said they were unaware of the pollution at the time and the suggestions from the county health department for at-risk populations to remain indoors.
Dr James Fabisiak, PhD associate professor of environmental and occupation health at Pitt and senior author on the report said “When we asked the participants if they would want to know about an environmental disaster, of course they said they would. Our study reveals that there is a need for a more robust notification system that uses many modes of communication so people can make informed, timely decisions to protect their health.”
US Steel’s external lead for operational communications Amanda Malkowski said the company spent more than USD 300 million dollars on environmental improvements in the Mon Valley since the fire. Malkowski said "These investments and the dedication of our employees have led to record-setting environmental performance for both US Steel and Allegheny County. We have announced enhanced commitments to sustainability and are supporting the Allegheny County Health Department’s inversion rule, part of which includes Mon Valley air quality alerts to increase community awareness. Since 2018, we have improved transparency, communicating with local officials and agencies with great frequency and engaging with our Community Advisory Panels. Safety and environmental performance remain our top priorities, and we value our commitments to our employees, communities and the environment.”