Soot collected from homes neighboring AK Steel contains toxic heavy metals

ECO and Ohio Citizen Action seek additional testing to determine the extent of contamination in Middletown from air pollution

For Immediate Release
January 11, 2002

Rachael Belz, Ohio Citizen Action, (513) 221-2100
Ray Agee, Neighbor of AK Steel, (513) 420-9976
Bill Menrath, Chair, Cincinnati Area Lead Advisory Committee, (513) 232-4457

CINCINNATI -– Soot collected from homes near AK Steel's coke making operation showed the presence of heavy metal contamination. Heavy metal pollutants, occurring naturally in raw coal, are released by coal burning processes, such as coke ovens. The heavy metals found included manganese, zinc, strontium, zirconium, arsenic, lead and mercury; some of these may originate from the steel production.

"We easily collected large amounts of particulate matter from peoples' yards, homes, including indoors, cars and roof gutters in November and December 2001. Neighbors report to us that the soot falling on their homes causes eye and respiratory irritation. The soot damages their property by staining it and destroying finishes, and is a constant nuisance," said Rachael Belz, Ohio Citizen Action.

The soot, also called particulate matter, can lodge in people's lungs for long periods of time, and is recognized as causing serious respiratory troubles. If that soot also contains heavy metals such as manganese, arsenic, lead, and mercury, a whole host of other health problems, from behavioral and neurological disorders, to kidney damage, to cancer, may follow.

"If lead is coming down in the form of a small particulate and getting onto cooking utensils and food preparation surfaces, this could cause elevated blood lead levels," Bill Menrath said. Menrath is the Chair of the Cincinnati Area Lead Advisory Committee. Chronic, low-level lead exposure can cause reduced IQ and attention span, hyperactivity, impaired growth, reading and learning disabilities, hearing loss, insomnia, and a range of other health, intellectual, and behavioral effects.

The public is typically more aware of the hazards of lead. But, Menrath added "exposure to mercury could cause irreversible damage to the central nervous system, and arsenic is a potent carcinogen." Children are known to be at highest risk from exposure to such toxins, since their brains and bodies are still developing.

"In response to the complaints of residents, Ohio EPA collected and analyzed over 100 samples, and identified kish (graphite particles), coke, and iron in the samples they collected. However, they never tested for heavy metals, even though EPA is well aware that coal combustion processes emit a range of heavy metals." said Karen Arnett of ECO. "The Ohio EPA should have been doing these tests for decades and sharing the results with citizens."

"We will be conducting more particulate tests in Middletown. We ask any residents who'd like to help with the testing to call us at 513-761-6140. We'll be sharing the results with the residents as we get them," said Karen Arnett. "We want to learn more about the actual exposure to neighbors and the families living next to the Middletown Works."

The U.S. Justice Department, on behalf of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, filed its complaint against AK Steel on June 29, 2000. Charges include 204 specific violations of air, water, and hazardous waste laws. The State of Ohio sought to become an intervening plaintiff. The District Court heard oral arguments in favor of Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) joining the case on January 7, 2002. AK Steel's pollution has adversely affected their members' quality of life, their use, benefit and enjoyment of the air, water and soils into which AK Steel is discharging pollutants.

Specific allegations include the following:

  • The illegal discharge of PCBs into Dicks Creek
  • Numerous chemical spills, at least two of which caused fish kills
  • Failing to control emissions of particulate matter
  • The illegal release of hazardous waste into the environment, including cyanide, waste- water, zinc, lead, benzene, and waste acid, among other toxic materials

From May to December 31, 2001, 7,044 citizens in southwestern Ohio have sent personal letters to AK Steel's Chief Executive Officer, Richard Wardrop, urging him to eliminate pollution, clean up past contamination and meet with nearby residents and environmental groups to discuss timeframes and cleanup goals. Mr. Wardrop has not responded to our letters or neighbors’ requests for a meeting. Ohio Citizen Action conducts a year round door to door canvas on the AK Steel Good Neighbor Campaign. Canvassers will again be knocking on doors in the Middletown area starting next week.

According to AK Steel's web site, AK Steel has led the integrated steel industry in operating profits per ton for seven consecutive years. In 2000, AK Steel had operating profits of $338 million. Their high profitability shows they can afford to make steel and control their pollution. Their 10-K filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission indicate that AK Steel doesn't believe that environmental compliance would adversely affect their bottom line.

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