November 9, 2023 - Residents of East Palestine, Ohio, and the Mon Valley near Pittsburgh protested outside a coal and steel industry conference co-sponsored by Norfolk Southern in Downtown Pittsburgh on Wednesday.
The conference, MetCoke World Summit, is focused on metallurgical coal, which is used to make coke, a key component of steel.
Protestors at the MetCoke World Summit 2023 in Pittsburgh call for clean air and clean jobs.
Photo: Reid R. Frazier, The Allegheny Front
Pamela Lee of Clairton was one of about 30 people who came to the rally organized by local environmental groups. Lee was there because she wanted U.S. Steel to think more about the people who live outside the company’s fencelines. She says her health has declined since she moved close to U.S. Steel’s Clairton Coke Works four years ago.
“Sometimes my eyes burn, sometimes my ear itches and sometimes I can’t breathe correctly. My son has asthma,” she said. “There’s a high rate of asthma in Clairton, Pa. — a higher rate of COPD. And I’m here to fight because we need clean air now.”
The coke plant is the largest in the United States. It is by far the largest source of particle pollution in Allegheny County and one of the state’s top emitters of carbon dioxide. The EPA recently ordered Allegheny County to rewrite its pollution permit for the Clairton plant, which sits in an environmental justice area, as defined by state regulation.
U.S. Steel, in a statement, said it was “committed to doing its fair share to protect the air quality in the communities where we live and operate.”
The company is listed on the advisory council for the MetCoke Summit but was not a sponsor and did not send representatives to the event, according to a spokesperson.
Protesting Norfolk Southern
Tamara Freeze made the trip from East Palestine. She lives across the street from where the Norfolk Southern train derailed on Feb. 3. Five rail cars worth of vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen, were intentionally burned after the derailment.
She says she’s felt like she’s had a sinus cold for nine months and recently developed joint pain that she suspects is tied to chemical exposures.
“More recently, I’ve had, like, severe joint pain and every single joint that I have,” she said. After spending two hours in Pittsburgh for the rally, she said her joints felt better. “At home, I can barely lift like a bag without it almost feeling like I twisted my thumb and broke it.”
Also in attendance was Hillary Flint. She lives less than four miles from East Palestine, in Enon Valley, Pa. She says chemicals from the derailment have since been detected at her home, and that her water gives her rashes.
“We, the people, are watching,” she said to the small crowd assembled. “The people that have lived in these communities for generations, the people that have fought hard to achieve the American dream, the people that have defended this country with their vote, their word, and sometimes their lives…we are all waiting to see how America holds (these) companies accountable.”
In a statement, Norfolk Southern says the company is committed to “making right” in East Palestine and surrounding communities.