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Neville Island coke plant approved

Thursday, April 22, 1999

By Don Hopey, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Despite continuing air quality violations at its coke plant on Neville Island, Shenango Inc. has received preliminary county approval to build a $100 million facility.

The coking plant proposed by Shenango and its soon-to-be partner, Antaeus Energy, would use waste coal from "gob" piles in West Virginia to produce 500,000 tons of coke a year and employ 50 people.

It would operate alongside Shenango's plant, which produces 360,000 tons of coke annually and employs 200.

That facility violated county sulfur release standards 232 days last year.

The final permit for the new coke batteries, if awarded, will be closely tied to elimination of excess emissions.

"We've made improvements to the existing plant a condition of the permit, and the company is under way with an upgrade of the existing plant that should be done by the end of June," said Guillermo Cole, Allegheny County Health Department spokesman.

Those upgrades, which will include a new filtration system for sulfur emissions, are already resulting in improvements. Over the first 76 days this year, Shenango violated sulfur emission limits 25 days.

"That's not good enough, but it's better than what they were doing previously," Cole said. "We expect the new filtration system will make a significant difference and, hopefully, before they open the new plant they will be able to demonstrate they can operate the existing plant within the standards."

After a 30-day public comment period that begins today, and a public hearing scheduled for May 20 at Avalon Elementary School, final approval by the Health Department could come by June.

Construction would begin immediately thereafter and take 18 months.

Opponents of the Antaeus proposal say Shenango should make those improvements and meet existing permit standards before a new permit is considered.

"The Health Department's proposal to give Shenango a new permit while they blatantly violate their current permits goes against all common sense and the Clean Air Act," said Myron Arnowitt, Western Pennsylvania director for Clean Water Action.

"They are rewarding one of the county's worst air violators when they should be getting Shenango into compliance with the law."

Clean Water Action and the Neville Island Good Neighbor Committee, a citizens group, have urged the Health Department to deny the new permit until Shenango complies with the existing permit, and require no net increase in pollution as a result of the new plant. The groups also want the county to fund research into higher-than-normal cancer rates on and around Neville Island that were found by a 1998 study.

Carol Fusaro, an Antaeus spokeswoman, said the pending merger with Shenango will have environmental benefits for the highly industrialized island in the Ohio River.

"Antaeus plans, as part of the merger, to bring additional resources to accelerate the improvements that are already started," Fusaro said. "We want to bring Shenango into compliance and help them stay in compliance."

The draft permit is available for public review at the Avalon Public Library and at the Health Department Air Quality Program office in Lawrenceville, or on the Health Department Web site at:

Written comments may be sent to Sandra Etzel, Chief Engineer, ACHD, Air Quality Program, 301 39th St., Pittsburgh 15201, or can be faxed to Etzel at 412-578-8144.

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