The Shenango Coke Works plant on Neville Island, which has been owned by DTE Energy (DTE) since 2008, demolished two smoke stacks and a concrete coal storage bunker by imploding them on May 8, 2018. It has already been closed and nonoperational since January 2016 when the last batch of coke came out of its ovens. When it was operational, the Shenango plant supplied coke, a key material in the steel making process, to AK Steel in Ashland, Kentucky and Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan. The demand for steel has been dwindling though, making the domestic steel industry operate at 60 percent of capacity. Since the demand for steel has decreased, the demand for coke has decreased as well.
For the duration of its 54 years in operation, the Shenango Coke Works Plant produced toxic pollution during the coke making process which included: carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, particulate matter, and volatile organic compounds. Shenango had to pay over $2 million in penalties since the 1980s for environmental violations that severely impacted the health of the surrounding community for years.
Even though residents of Neville Island had previously wanted the plant to stop operating, the destruction of the plant has residents worried that coal dust, asbestos, and other contaminates were sent into the air. The Allegheny County Health Department and DTE stated that no asbestos was found before demolition and necessary precautions have been taken to minimize contaminate exposure. This included encasing the smokestacks, using water cannons to spray where the smokestacks fell, and setting up visual dust monitors to survey the area. However, there could still be a chance that asbestos could be released into the air. Due to the blast of the implosion, asbestos in another part of the site could be disturbed and could become airborne.
Asbestos was used in coke plants because coke is created in high temperature furnaces and they needed to be wrapped in something very heat resistant. Asbestos is very dangerous if it becomes airborne. Tiny particles float in the air and usually do not go away. People could then become exposed to the tiny asbestos particles and could contract lung cancer, asbestosis (scarring of the lungs), and mesothelioma (a cancer of tissue that lines the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs.)
With all of the controversy surrounding the Shenango plant it is good to see that the residents of Neville Island are finally getting closure. Clean air should not be a luxury and people should not have to live in an area where there is pollution. Even though the future of the site is unknown, the closure and demolition of the site is a step in the right direction towards a less polluted city of Pittsburgh.
If you have an asbestos related disease like mesothelioma or lung cancer and know that you have been exposed to asbestos, you can fill out our contact form or call us at 412-471-3980 to find out your options and next steps for filing a claim.
Don Hopey, “Shenango Coke Works makes its final batch,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (January 7, 2016). [Link]
Don Hopey, “Shenango Coke Works smokestacks coming down,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (May 7, 2018). [Link]
Matt Stroud, “Why DTE closed the Shenango coke plant,” Pittsburgh Business Times (December 18, 2015). [Link]