AK Steel: Where things stand now

February 16, 2004

Ruth Breech, Southwest Ohio Program Director
Ohio Citizen Action

The last few months have seen excellent progress in the AK Steel campaign. Here's a summary and a look at what's next.

The "AK Come Clean" campaign began on May 4, 2001, and steadily built community and regional strength for over 2 1/2 years. This good-neighbor campaign has included door-to-door canvassing in Middletown and the Southwest Ohio/Northern Kentucky region, follow-up phone canvassing and community meetings. Through our coalition we have been able to do water testing that linked PCBs in Dick's Creek to AK Steel and produce a video documentary. There has been wide community support, tens of thousands of letters from neighbors near and far have voiced their concerns to AK, and some even got involved in a volunteer gutter cleaning. Neighbors' delegations have also attended three AK Steel annual shareholders' meetings in Delaware.

This campaign has been aimed at AK Steel's unbridled emissions of silver flakes, their black, white, and rust-colored particles into the neighborhood air, and PCB-contaminated 'white substance seepage' that flows from their landfills into Dick's Creek.

Former AK Steel CEO Richard Wardrop had decided to keep very high profit levels in large part by not investing in plant maintenance and modernization. The campaign warned that this neglect would not only continue the pollution, but would in the long run threaten the company's survival and the jobs of Middletown steelworkers. Wardrop ignored this warning, but others did not.

Last fall, the dam broke, and a quick succession of good results has followed:

  • Sep 18, 2003: The AK Steel board forced CEO Richard Wardrop and the company President to resign.

  • Oct 2, 2003: The good neighbor campaign was able to open up lines of communication with the company.

  • Dec 17, 2003: New CEO James Wainscott "agreed, subject to being able to meet all necessary conditions, to fund the installation of a fence behind Amanda School in Middletown" adjacent to Dick's Creek.

  • Jan 30, 2004: The AK Steel board committed to investing $65 million to control the pollution pouring out of its Middletown Works, coming into compliance with federal air regulations, and preserving more than 1,000 jobs at the Middletown plant. This step marked a reversal of AK Steel's corporate strategy.

  • Feb 13, 2004:CEO James Wainscott detailed next steps on the Dick's Creek fence and air controls.
It is not too soon to start giving credit where it is due: to the tens of thousands of citizens in southwest Ohio, local and regional community groups, AK Steel workers, AK Steel board of directors, and the company's new management, all of whom have played a role in the progress we have seen so far.

Though we have come a long way, there is still work to be done.

Air pollution

AK's $65 million commitment is a major step forward. Carrying out that commitment effectively will significantly reduce the damage this plant has been doing to the health and property of neighbors near and far.

Water pollution

Though we have seen improvement in air issues, Dick's Creek is still contaminated with PCBs from AK Steel. The health effects of PCBs are similar to lead and mercury; the chemicals attack the human body, including gastrointestinal, hormone, immune, nervous and reproductive systems.

  • Dick's Creek fence: AK Steel's commitment and timeline are welcome and necessary, and we will continue to work with neighbors and the company on their plans to keep children out of the creek.

  • Continued PCB seepage into Dick's Creek: The community needs to know (1) the extent of continued PCB seepage into Dick's Creek, (2) how it is happening, and (3) what steps AK Steel is taking to stop it.

  • Clean up: AK Steel needs to clean up the past PCB contamination of Dick's Creek. Whether it involves dredging, lining on-site landfills or some other means, this will benefit Middletown and the Great Miami River Valley. The clean up is the subject of a U.S. EPA lawsuit.