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Pittsburgh Coke Stacks Destroyed

July 11, 1999

PITTSBURGH (AP) _ A demolition crew on Sunday toppled six coke stacks along the Monongahela River, long-time symbols of this city’s industrial heritage.

The destruction of the stacks of LTV Corp.’s now-closed coke plant signals an end to the days when steel mills and industrial plants choked the banks of the city’s three rivers, drawing people _ many of them immigrants _ to work and live in the communities that sprang up there.

Coke is coal heated in an oven to remove the gasses; it burns with intense heat and is used in the steel-making process.

The first five stacks went easily, 15 pounds of explosives weakened the base of each. The sixth stack held on, gasping a cloud of smoke from its top but standing firm in denial. Workers rounded up more explosives and finally knocked it over late in the afternoon.

``Maybe it’s just that people don’t like to see part of their history go,″ said Tom Berkins, who grew up in Hazelwood, a Pittsburgh neighborhood in the shadow of the stacks.

Berkins, 44, now lives in Oakland, Calif., and works as an environmental engineer. His father worked in the steel industry and Berkins remembers looking out his bedroom window to see smoke belching from the stacks _ the thick sulfur smell creeping into his nose.

Over the years, he has returned to Pittsburgh to visit his parents and watched as the steel mills fell one by one.

``There’s clean air and clean water, but it’s taken its toll on the economy. The steel mills obviously were the lifeblood of this area.″

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