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Group calls for delaying permit for new coke plant

Wednesday, May 26, 1999

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

An Allegheny County Health Department citizens committee has recommended that a construction permit for a new coke plant on Neville Island be delayed until Shenango Inc.'s existing coke batteries on the island can meet air quality regulations.

The committee last night also asked the Health Department to support a new study of cancer rates in the heavily industrialized Neville Island area by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

Shenango plans to partner with Antaeus Energy Corp. of Wakefield, Mass., to build a $100 million coke works next to its existing plant, which has a continuing history of air quality violations for which the company has paid more than $280,000 in fines over the past three years.

"Shenango should be made to demonstrate compliance for a specific period longer than one day," said Marie Kocoshis, a committee member and president of the Group Against Smog and Pollution.

"Shenango has had air emissions problems for two decades. We want to make sure the control equipment they propose to put on Shenango's existing plant really does take care of the problem."

Dan Demoise, Shenango vice president for health, safety and the environment, said the committee's recommendation will give the company an opportunity to show the results of a $900,000 emissions control improvement program started in November.

"I don't know if it will delay construction of the new facility, but we'll be able to show dramatic improvements at the coke batteries and meet the sulfur standard," he said.

Roger Westman, Health Department division manager for air quality, said the proposed draft permit for the new Shenango/Antaeus facility already contains a compliance plan and schedule for the existing 56-oven coke battery. He said the company should finish equipment installation by the end of June.

Also under way is preliminary work by the state Health Department on a cancer study in the Neville Island area that was requested last fall by Dr. Bruce Dixon, county Health Department director.

The existing Shenango plant produces 360,000 tons of coke and employs 250. The new operation would employ 50 people and use low-quality coal from West Virginia to produce 500,000 tons of coke a year.

A majority of those commenting at a public hearing attended by 200 people last week opposed the new coke plant. And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has asked the county to delay permit approval until it gets a commitment from Shenango on a consent order to bring the existing plant into compliance with emissions standards for sulfur.

"Add together this committee's recommendation, the public comments and the EPA position, and that should make the county take a hard look at what Shenango says it's going to do," said Davitt Woodwell, a member of the committee and director of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council's western regional office.

"This resolution should also put the incentive on the company by letting it know the county may delay the permit."

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