- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 4, 2015

PITTSBURGH (AP) - ArcelorMittal’s western Pennsylvania coke plant violated the federal Clean Air Act hundreds of times by showering nearby residents with soot and other pollutants, an environmental activist group said Tuesday.

PennEnvironment announced it sent a 19-page letter detailing the alleged violations at the Monessen plant to the Chicago-based steelmaker, ArcelorMittal USA, on Monday. The notice gives the company 60 days to address the alleged violations; otherwise, the group will file a federal lawsuit. The advance notice is required under federal pollution regulations, which give citizens the right to sue if regulatory agencies haven’t, PennEnvironment executive director David Masur said.

The lawsuit would seek a court order requiring the plant, located about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh, to comply with pollution laws and unspecified fines for what Masur called a “track record of chronic violations” since the plant reopened in April 2014.

“It’s been 15 months now that the plant has been open and more than 300 violations have been documented,” said Heather Govern, an attorney with the National Environmental Law Center, which is preparing the lawsuit.

Residents have contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, which issued the plant’s pollution permit, to complain about odors from sulfur-based pollution, as well as soot and heavy metals found in their yards.

Donora resident Viktoryia Maroz said state regulators have found arsenic and coal dust in her backyard, and she regularly smells the “rotten egg-burning rubber” odor the plant emits even when her doors and windows are closed.

“When it gets in your house, you can’t escape it,” said Maroz, who is married, but has yet to have children. “How do you start a family with those pollutants there?”

ArcelorMittal said in a statement late Tuesday afternoon that it had been “disappointed by the performance record” of the Monessen plant since the facility’s May 2014 restart and had been working closely with regulatory authorities to address concerns.

“We are committed to ensuring that the recent improvements prevent future occurrences and maintain compliance levels,” the statement said. “We know that being a trusted and responsible user of our natural resources is the price of admission in today’s metals and mining business, and we are committed to achieving and maintaining full compliance with all environmental permits at all of our locations.”

The environmental group said it won’t file a lawsuit if the company agrees to clean up the problems or settle out of court.

“It’s hope for the best and prepare for the worst,” said Joshua Kratka, another National Environmental Law Center attorney.

Masur said the plant has continued to operate even when an anti-pollution device, known as a desulfurization unit, wasn’t operating. The alleged violations are based on problems the company self-reported to the DEP, others found by government inspectors and complaints from residents like Maroz and Ed Tolliver, who lives in Monessen, Masur said.

“I just want them to be a good neighbor to me and have clean air,” Tolliver said.

DEP’s southwestern Pennsylvania spokesman, John Poister, said the agency has been monitoring the plant and resident complaints and has issued Notices of Violation - which carry unspecified fines and other penalties - based on the plant’s emissions. DEP officials and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency inspected the plant in April and the DEP did again last month.

“The department’s enforcement efforts are ongoing,” Poister said.

The plant has 155 employees, two coke batteries, a byproduct recovery processing plant and other operations, according to ArcelorMittal’s website.

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