Lawmakers Hope Company, Environmentalists Can Find Common Ground in Aftermath of Clairton Fire

February 13, 2019 |

By Charlotte Hopkins | Posted in: News

Above: The crowd overflowed city council chambers at Clairton's municipal building on Feb. 7 during a hearing on air quality problems following a fire at U.S. Steel's Clairton Plant. (Charlotte Hopkins photo, special to Tube City Almanac)

Workers at U.S. Steel's Clairton Plant said they want to have an open discussion about the air quality around the facility --- but they also want to preserve thousands of jobs in the Mon Valley.

"Simply put, if U.S. Steel ends up idling batteries, our members will lose their jobs," said Don Furko, president of United Steelworkers Local Union 1557. "This will begin a chain of events that will have a devastating impact on them, their families and our communities across the Mon Valley."

Following a standing-room-only meeting last week at the Clairton Municipal Building, state lawmakers are hoping to bring the company, employees, residents and environmental advocates to the table to work together. State Sen. Jim Brewster said U.S. Steel has agreed to open quarterly meetings to lawmakers, health groups and concerned residents.

“The purpose of the meeting wasn't to find blame but to find a process to keep U.S. Steel open and producing coke, and also pay attention to our air quality," Brewster said. "I want closer discussions, and invite them to the meetings, not to argue or debate but create partnerships in communication.”

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Wagner Hears Concerns During Healthcare Meeting

February 07, 2019 |

By Charlotte Hopkins | Posted in: News

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner listens Monday to testimony during a meeting at Carnegie Library of McKeesport. (Charlotte Hopkins photo special to Tube City Almanac)

Customers are concerned about what will happen when a consent decree between UPMC Health System and Highmark, the area's largest Blue Cross Blue Shield provider, ends on July 1.

At the first of a series of community meetings organized by Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner, held Monday night at Carnegie Library of McKeesport, Highmark subscribers said they were angry about some of UPMC's practices.

Wagner is holding another meeting at 6:30 tonight (Feb. 7) in room B-434 of CCAC South Campus, 1750 Clairton Road, West Mifflin.

Some of the people who spoke Monday asked that their names be withheld. One woman said she has a brain tumor and has been treated by a UPMC doctor even though her insurance is with Highmark. That arrangement will end June 30, when UPMC is no longer required to accept certain Highmark patients.

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Legislators Plan Public Hearing on Clairton Works Fire, Aftermath

January 28, 2019 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: News

U.S. Steel: Repairs to pollution equipment expected to take four months

(U.S. Steel photo)

Four state legislators will hold a town-hall style public hearing in Clairton to discuss a Dec. 24 fire at U.S. Steel's Clairton Plant, and the aftermath.

State Sen. Jim Brewster said that joint Senate-House Democratic Policy Committee hearing will begin at 12 noon Feb. 7 at the Clairton Municipal Building, 551 Ravensburg Blvd.

Also scheduled to attend, along with officials from the Allegheny County Health Department, are state Sen. Jay Costa and state Reps. Austin Davis and Bill Kortz.

Meanwhile, U.S. Steel said that the pollution control equipment damaged in the fire could be out of service for up to four months, but that the company is working "around the clock to make the necessary repairs."

The company has set up a special website at to provide updates directly to the public.

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Boil-Water Advisory Could Be Lifted Thursday

January 23, 2019 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: News

Officials with the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County are hopeful that a boil-water advisory for residents of Port Vue and McKeesport's 10th Ward could be lifted on Thursday.

Matthew Junker, authority spokesman, said MAWC is waiting for test results of a water sample taken Wednesday morning. The test --- checking for possible contamination --- takes 24 hours.

"If we get the results we expect, and the (state Department of Environmental Protection) gives approval, it could be lifted in the A.M.," Junker said.

About 2,100 customers have been under the boil-water advisory since Tuesday morning, when the authority detected a loss of water pressure and found a broken six-inch water main on Joy Street in Port Vue.

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State Officials Call for More Accountability from U.S. Steel, Health Dept.

January 16, 2019 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: News

(Roy Luck photo via Wikimedia Commons. Licensed under Creative Commons CC-BY-2.0.)

Correction appended, Jan. 17:

Three elected state officials are demanding more accountability from U.S. Steel and the Allegheny County Health Department in the wake of the announcement that sulfur dioxide emissions from the Clairton Plant have exceeded safe levels six times since Dec. 24.

State Sens. Jim Brewster and Jay Costa and state Rep. Austin Davis are calling on the state House and Senate Democratic Policy Committees to hold a joint hearing in the Mon-Yough area, which has been under an "air quality alert" since Jan. 8.

Last week, local residents criticized the health department for waiting 16 days before issuing the alert, which warned children, the elderly and people with heart and lung conditions to avoid strenuous outdoor activities until further notice.

"The public needs to know sooner and get better information on how to react," Brewster, Costa and Davis said in a joint release Wednesday.

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Health Department Responds to Criticism Over Clairton Plant Warning

January 11, 2019 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: News

Brett Ciccotelli photo via Flickr. Licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0).

Mon-Yough residents reacted angrily after the Allegheny County Health Department warned people with heart and lung conditions to avoid strenuous outdoor activities due to equipment problems at U.S. Steel's Clairton Plant.

On social media, they questioned why the department waited 16 days before issuing the warning.

The health department's alert, issued Wednesday, cautioned Mon-Yough area residents --- especially children, the elderly and those suffering from conditions such as asthma, emphysema or bronchitis --- to avoid strenuous outdoor activities until further notice.

According to the health department, sulfur dioxide emissions at the Clairton Plant have gone above acceptable levels six times since a fire on Dec. 24 that knocked out two pieces of emissions equipment known as "gas dispatcher" stations.

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Emergency Training Comes to City Churches Through UPMC Program

January 10, 2019 |

By Richard Finch Jr. | Posted in: News

Dale Mitchell, an EMT with UPMC, works with participants at a Stop the Bleed training seminar at Noah's Ark Community Center in McKeesport. (Photo by Richard Finch Jr., special to Tube City Almanac)

“Sometimes it’s hard to get people to step up and be interested in something until it hits home, thinking it’s never going to touch them,” said Rev. Earlene Coleman, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in McKeesport.

Even before last year’s synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, an increasing number of law enforcement, emergency medical personnel and school district employees had signed up for Stop the Bleed, a training initiative to prepare people to assist victims in life-threatening situations until emergency medical personnel arrive at the scene.

UPMC, in partnership with Copeland Regional Trauma Council, is leading the nation's largest "Stop the Bleed" initiative. Developed in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, the program's goal is to train bystanders and first responders to stop bleeding using dressings, compression and tourniquets.

On Saturday, Bethlehem hosted a 90-minute "Stop the Bleed" class at Noah’s Ark Community Center in McKeesport.

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County: Clairton Plant Fire Leaves Potential for Unhealthy Air

January 09, 2019 |

By Staff Reports | Posted in: News

U.S. Steel's Clairton Plant in a 2010 photo by Patrick Cain. (Via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0)

An accident three weeks ago that damaged two pieces of equipment at U.S. Steel's Clairton Plant has the potential to create unhealthy air conditions in the Mon Valley, Allegheny County officials said Wednesday.

The county Health Department is warning residents --- especially those with pre-existing heart or lung conditions --- to limit their outdoor activities until further notice.

The Clairton Plant produces coke, a fuel used in the steelmaking process, by baking coal at extremely high temperatures to remove impurities.

Jim Kelly, deputy director for environmental health at the Health Department, said a fire on Dec. 24 damaged two "gas dispatcher" stations, which help to remove pollutants.

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Railroad Operations Disturbing Sleep, 10th Ward Residents Say

January 04, 2019 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: News

A CSX train passes through Downtown McKeesport in 2016. Residents of lower 10th Ward say nighttime railroad operations are knocking things from walls and disturbing their sleep, but the railroad says nothing's changed. (D.A. Liscomb photo via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.)

The author of this story has a conflict of interest. See editor's note.

It sounds like "a pile of steel (being) dropped into an empty barge at two in the morning."

That's how Dwayne Yeager of lower 10th Ward described CSX Railroad's late-night and early-morning operations in his neighborhood.

Yeager, who is retired from factory work, has lived in his home since 1994, so he's used to the sound of trains passing through. He told McKeesport City Council on Wednesday that it's not the normal noise of train operations bothering him and his neighbors.

"That noise is nothing," Yeager said. "What they're doing is hooking and unhooking cars by camera, without a brakeman, at all hours of the day and night. They're shaking things off the walls and off of the windows."

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Police Chief Announces Retirement, Effective Feb. 1

January 02, 2019 |

By Jason Togyer | Posted in: Crime and Police News, News

McKeesport's police chief will wrap up an almost 26-year career with the department on Feb. 1.

Bryan J. "B.J." Washowich, who has served as chief since 2010, has announced his retirement. His successor has not yet been named.

Washowich, 47, grew up in White Oak, where his father, the late Wayne Washowich, served as a police officer, planning and zoning director, and code enforcement officer.

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