The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has opened a follow-up investigation near Erie Coke because of the results of the department’s new passive air monitoring sampling.
DEP, which received the first three sets of passive air sampling results, found that monitors had indicated that benzene concentrations exceeded a specific action level set forth in the sampling plan. This plan calls for further investigation when the 1.3 µg/m3 action level is exceeded for three sampling events in a rolling 90-day period.
“These levels do not indicate an immediate risk for the community; however, they do warrant additional investigation. In each of the first three sets of results, concentrations in excess of the allotted action level were observed in at least one sampling location,” DEP officials said in a press release Wednesday.
“There are many potential causes of a sample result above DEP’s action value,” said DEP Northwest Regional Office Director Jim Miller. “Exceeding the action value does not necessarily represent a violation for an applicable requirement or permit condition by Erie Coke, and other sources may be contributing to values recorded. This investigation will aid in determining what specific activities in the area of the Erie Coke plant, on or about the sampling period, could have caused the increased concentration level.”
Additional short-term sampling, site inspections, and reviews of facility records will be part of DEP’s investigation. The public will see an enhanced presence of DEP staff in the East Erie community as a result of the investigation.
DEP developed the sampling plan in response to concerns raised by the members of a community stakeholder group formed by the DEP, as well as several recent actions requiring Erie Coke to address numerous, ongoing violations of the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act, many of which Erie Coke has appealed and not complied with. The 13 passive air monitoring devices, which were deployed July 17 as part of a year-long sampling plan, have been monitoring for benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. The sampling is conducted 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Every two weeks, the tubes are collected, and new tubes are placed within the sampler.
View the sampling results on DEP’s website https://www.dep.pa.gov/About/Regional/NorthwestRegion/Community-Information/Pages/Erie-Coke-Benzene.aspx. The site will be updated as new results become available.
“The East Erie community, which has been waiting patiently for these results, can now view for themselves the same data we are seeing,” Miller said. “I can’t stress enough though, that this is a long-term sampling plan. We still need much more data to be able to determine the significance of these findings.”
Group Against Smog and Pollution Executive Director Rachel Filippini lauded the move by DEP.
“We are glad to see PA DEP conducting this air monitoring sampling, getting the results out to the community in a timely way, and continuing to conduct further investigations when the action level is exceeded on multiple occasions,” she said. “These are the types of actions we expect from a regulatory agency charged with protecting public health.”
On July 1, DEP announced that it denied Erie Coke’s application to renew its Title V operating permit and has filed a complaint for injunctive relief in Erie County Court seeking to shut down the coke production facility following years of numerous repetitive environmental violations. The case is currently before the Environmental Hearing Board.