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Officials worry underground fire could affect sale of Pittsburgh Glass Works plant

July 13, 2018
Officials worry underground fire could affect sale of Pittsburgh Glass Works plant

East Deer officials would like answers on the fate of the soon-to-be-shuttered Pittsburgh Glass Works plant as an underground fire continues to burn beneath the 135-year old site.

PGW officials continue to study the hot spots under the plant, which appear to be from a coal-containing backfill material that is burning underground.

When the plant stops production Aug. 17, East Deer will collect most of the estimated $30,000 in real estate and local service taxes, according to officials.

While the township anticipates the company to pay its real estate taxes next year, they want to see the site productive again.

“That is prime riverfront property and could have multiple uses going forward,” said Anthony Taliani, president of the township’s board of commissioners.

“We would like to see it be a productive industrial site that provides family-sustaining jobs.”

PGW plans to sell the facility, according to Jennifer Eck, a PGW spokeswoman.

The company operates a public website for updates on the underground fire and plans to announce updates in the future, she added.

PGW has not confirmed it plans to extinguish what it calls “hot spots” under the plant, but says it’s working with “appropriate agencies,” according to Eck.

The underground hotspots pose no threat to employees or the community, she said.

Carbon monoxide and other combustion by-products -- including hydrogen sulfide and flammable gas -- have been detected, according to the company, which has been venting the plant and monitoring the air.

PGW started to investigate random odors in the production area of the plant in September.

Plant air monitoring determined that carbon monoxide and other fumes are “well below established federal OSHA and American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygiene limits,” according to company representatives.

The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration opened its investigation Dec. 21.

The original complaint stemmed from an allegation of exposures resulting from a “smoldering fire underneath a floor,” according to Joanna P. Hawkins, a spokeswoman for OSHA in Philadelphia.

PGW called in the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to the plant in November to investigate a fire beneath the floor of the building. They confirmed a slow-burning fire beneath a small portion of the plant, said Lauren Fraley, a DEP spokeswoman.

“DEP concluded that the fire did not originate from an abandoned coal mine. Beyond that, DEP cannot speak to the cause of the fire or history of the site,” she said.

The company is addressing “localized hot spots” on the plant’s concrete floor.

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