U.S. Steel has been flaring coke oven gas from its Irvin Works facility ever since the fire on 12/24/18 that damaged desulfurization equipment at the Clairton Coke Works. At a public testimony at the March 6, 2019 Allegheny County Health Department Board Meeting, Matt Mehalik from the Breathe Project explained that SO2 pollution is now 35x what it was before the fire at US Steel’s Clairton Coke Works on December 24, 2018. “Today is 73 days after the explosion. If ACHD’s numbers are representative, this means US Steel has emitted over 7 years’ worth of sulfur pollution since the explosion as compared with before the explosion.”
This information raises the question: are there other pollutants besides SO2 coming from the flares? And if so, how many? To begin to answer that question, we can look to Earthworks and their fancy FLIR camera…
A certified thermographer from Earthworks, using a ~$100,000 FLIR camera, visited the area yesterday (3/11/19) to record infrared footage of the flares at Irvin Works. While the camera is not designed to visually capture SO2 emissions, the video does show that there are “significant plumes of hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) coming from the flares.”
Here is the formal context for this video as offered by Earthworks:
Community members alerted Earthworks to heavily increased flaring at the Irvin Steelworks plant as part of emergency operating conditions resulting from a fire at a connected facility, the Clairton Coke Plant, in December 2018. Locals in several nearby communities have expressed growing concern about the air quality, and health officials have gathered evidence elevated pollution levels in the area. Earthworks’ investigation with optical gas imaging (OGI) cameras on March 11, 2019 detected significant plumes of hydrocarbons and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) coming from the flares. The OGI camera is an industry-standard tool for visualizing air pollution from oil and gas development, and Earthworks’ camera operators are trained and certified to differentiate these gases from heat.
The content of the YouTube video, in my mind, creates a clear and urgent case for additional assessment of the materials being emitted by the flares at Irvin Works (and anywhere else the coke gas is being flared in Allegheny County). It also creates a clear case for a detailed assessment of the exposure to the community of a wide range of potential chemicals beyond SO2 that appear to be coming from that flare.
I personally accompanied the crew during the filming with this camera and in the afternoon when we left the Glassport area it smelled like undried glue. A very chemically smell. I’m not sure if the flare was the cause, but it was a strong, ripe smell!
A huge thanks to Earthworks for visiting to record the footage, by the way. And here is the description from their YouTube video:
United States Steel Corporation Mon Valley Works Irvin Plant West Mifflin, Allegheny County, PA (40.332578, -79.901805) Filmed 3/11/2019 All video taken by a certified thermographer with an industry standard optical gas imaging camera, the FLIR GasFinder 320. This $100,000 camera is specially calibrated to detect methane and other VOCs, and is used by the oil & gas industry and regulators for that purpose. For more infrared videos of oil and gas air pollution: http://bit.ly/CEPvideos For more info on the Community Empowerment Project and the FLIR GF320 optical gas imaging camera: http://cep.earthworks.org
For more information about the extraordinary amount of pollution coming from the Irvin Works flares, please also refer to this testimony by Matt Mehalik of the Breathe Project on 3/6/19:
And here is a video I shot of the actual flares, with an indication of their tremendous size…
And people often mistakenly believe that the FLIR camera just measures temperatures. That is not true. Here is a video explaining how Earthworks distinguishes between heat and emissions:
This post is by Mark Dixon on 3/12/19