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Breaking News

08:03 EDT Monday

Group seeks pollution dialogue

Don Baker   DBJ Staff Reporter

Volunteers campaigning for a safer environment recently began knocking on every door in Middletown to raise awareness of environmental concerns at AK Steel Corp.

Dozens of members of Ohio Citizen Action began scouring the Butler County community at the beginning of the month asking neighbors to join the group's Campaign for Safer Neighborhoods and asking them to write letters to Richard Wardrop Jr., chairman and chief executive officer of AK Steel.

"We've knocked on just about every door in Middletown in the past week," said Rachael Belz, Southwest Ohio director for Ohio Citizen Action. "The neighbors (who live next to AK's plant) that we've been talking to are concerned about the pollution."

Belz said Ohio Citizen Action has sent a letter to Wardrop asking him to meet with the group and try to work out the concerns of residents living near the plant.

AK Steel officials couldn't be reached for comment for this story.

Many neighbors of the plant have complained for years of a soot or powdery residue that coats cars and homes, as well as an acrid odor sometimes accompanied by a burning sensation in the eyes, according to Belz.

But while the group is campaigning against pollution, it isn't anti-AK Steel.

"We are not working to shut down the company," Belz said. "Our goal is to get the company to be good neighbors. There's a misconception that it's got to be jobs or the environment."

Ohio Citizen Action claims 150,000 dues-paying members throughout Ohio and said it has used this method before to bring together officials at other companies and residents living near their plants together to discuss the concerns of neighbors.

In its most recent action, the group organized a campaign of letter writing and public awareness that led to a meeting May 3 between officials of Rohm and Haas Co. and residents living near its plant in a Cincinnati suburb.

"What Ohio Citizen Action is doing in this case is representing citizens who they believe have serious concerns that have not been addressed," said Syd Havely, Rohm and Haas spokesman.

Havely said his Philadelphia.-based chemical company always forms what it calls community action committees, but the actions by Ohio Citizen Action helped prompt special meetings.

"They try and make your life miserable until they get your attention, and they do get your attention," he said.

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