On May 8, the DTE Energy-owned Shenango Coke Works facility on Pennsylvania’s Neville Island was demolished. The Pittsburgh-area plant, which baked coal to produce coke for steelmaking for 54 years, was closed in January 2016 following years of community protest and multiple air and water violations.
An Allegheny County Health Department study presented in March found a reduction in certain emergency room visits in the year following the plant’s closure. Visits for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease dropped 37.9 percent, and 26.5 percent for cardiovascular diseases including heart attacks and strokes.
The study also found an 11 percent decrease in airborne particulate matter in the year following the plant’s closure, as well as a 37 percent decrease in benzene and a “modest decrease” in hydrogen sulfide. However, the health department did not feel comfortable attributing the drop in ER visits to the changes in air quality alone.
Members of the community group Allegheny County Clean Air Now are working to convince DTE to open a solar facility on the former coke works site. — By Hannah Gillespie