PITTSBURGH (AP) — An environmental activist group sued ArcelorMittal USA on Thursday for allegedly violating the Clean Air Act by showering nearby residents with soot and other pollutants from a western Pennsylvania coke plant more than 200 times since it reopened in April 2014.
PennEnvironment sent a 60-day notice letter to the Chicago-based steelmaker in August. The advance notice is required under federal law, which gives citizens the right to sue if regulatory agencies have not.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection continues to work with the federal Environmental Protection Agency "with regard to operations at the plant and is evaluating appropriate enforcement actions," DEP spokesman John Poister said Thursday.
PennEnvironment executive director David Masur said the company only recently offered to discuss the violations.
"But they really haven't done anything to address the emissions" at the plant in Monessen, about 25 miles south of Pittsburgh, Masur said. "On something like the 58th day they said, 'Hey do you want to start talking about this?'"
ArcelorMittal spokeswoman Mary Beth Holdford said the company has been working with state and federal regulators to "address notices of violation issued by both agencies."
The company hasn't reviewed the federal lawsuit but is disappointed it was filed because ArcelorMittal believes the DEP and EPA are "well-prepared to address the regulatory issues; however, we remain committed to engaging with PennEnvironment in the future," she said.
ArcelorMittal has made unspecified "enhancements and investments" to improve the plant's environmental performance. "Our goal is to maintain full compliance," Holdford said.
But Masur said it's unfair to other steelmakers, not to mention the nearby residents, for ArcelorMittal to run the plant without pollution safeguards other companies are using. Coke is a form of baked coal that steel producers use in blast furnaces.
"We believe it should not pay to pollute in Pennsylvania," he said.
Donora resident Viktoryia Maroz lives about a mile from the plant. The DEP has found arsenic and coal dust in her backyard, and she regularly loses sleep and suffers headaches from the rotten egg-smell, even when her doors and windows are closed, she said.
According to the lawsuit, slightly more than 6,000 people live within a mile of the plant and just under 31,000 within three miles of it.
"Just by breathing I'm being poisoned, my neighbors are being poisoned," Maroz said.
The lawsuit seeks a ruling from a federal judge that ArcelorMittal has violated emissions standards 225 times, plus other violations for failing to monitor the pollution properly.
The lawsuit carries potential fines up to $37,500 per violation. PennEnvironment contends there are at least 300 violations, meaning the penalties could exceed $11 million.
More likely, the sides will hammer out a settlement with lesser penalties and requirements that the plant be upgraded to avoid future pollution and monitoring problems.
Maroz is the lead plaintiff in a separate class-action federal lawsuit filed in June on behalf of affected residents. They want damages for living with the pollution and compensation for what it does to their property, said her attorney, James DePasquale.
"It's two different approaches," he said. "They go hand in hand."