The Cincinnati Enquirer
- The clock has started ticking on new air quality
standards for AK Steel and the country's other steel and iron
makers - and AK Steel officials aren't sure they can keep
making steel here.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published new air
quality standards for steel and iron manufacturers Wednesday
in the Federal Register. Factories such as AK Steel's
Middletown Works plant now have three years to come into
It's a process AK Steel officials say will cost them $80
million. That expense, coupled with the possibility of another
$10 million or so in fines from the federal and state
environmental agencies and a $100 million upgrade to its blast
furnace, has AK Steel officials saying its steel-making days
in Middletown may be over.
"The uncertainties associated with additional pollution
control equipment for steel-making, plus the potential for
millions or tens of millions in fines sought by the U.S.
government and the state, has cast some doubt on our ability
in the future to make steel in Middletown cost effectively,"
said Alan McCoy, spokesman for the AK Steel.
McCoy said the company isn't threatening to leave town,
just that it might import the steel for its operations, rather
than making it at the plant. Still, that change could mean
more than 1,000 jobs lost in this Butler County city of
The new rules set limits on emissions of particulate matter
from smokestacks, and reduces the amount of toxins, such as
manganese and lead, allowed to be emitted. EPA officials say
the rule will affect 18 plants in 10 states, and will reduce
toxic air emissions by 67 tons per year and particulate matter
by 5,800 tons per year.
The toxins targeted by the new federal rules are linked to
cancer and kidney damage, along with respiratory and skin
irritation. Particulate matter is known to aggravate
respiratory and cardiovascular disease, and is associated with
increased risk of premature death.
The new regulations are good news, some people in
Middletown said. There have been scores of complaints filed by
residents near the AK Steel plant about soot and other
pollutants raining down on their homes and property from the
plant most every night.
Tova Findley, a pregnant Middletown mother, has lived here
for 13 years. She is skeptical of AK Steel's threats.
"They've been here for a long time," said Findley, who
lives a few miles from the plant. "Clean it up or close it
down. Our children's lives are definitely worth more than
whatever AK brings to Middletown."
Dina Pierce, a spokeswoman for the Ohio EPA, said the state
fully supports the new regulations. The federal and state EPAs
are suing AK Steel in federal court over air and water
The federal government has estimated the total cost of the
new regulations at $16 million. That doesn't ring true with
McCoy, who said the company's blast furnace was built in 1953.
Retrofitting the new equipment onto the old furnace will be
extremely expensive, and a new blast furnace would cost about
$500 million, he said.
"It was not contemplated 50 years ago that we would have to
go in and construct elaborate duct work, hoods and exhaust
fans," he said. "It's the equivalent of taking a 1953
automobile and making it compliant with today's emission
But that's exactly what it should do, said Susan Knight of
the Sierra Club, which has joined the federal lawsuit against
"AK has spent years disinvesting in the community that
built it," Knight said. "The environmentalists are asking for
a recommitment to Middletown. This isn't about cost. They're
going to have to deal with those costs no matter what they do.
This is an issue about whether Middletown Works will invest
back into the community."
Reporter Michael Clark contributed. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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