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AK ‘puzzled’ by site’s spot on EPA list

By Thomas Gnau, Journal Business Writer, E-mail:

AK Steel Corp. has never used the former Armco Inc. plant in New Miami.

But cleaning up the site could cost the Middletown-based steelmaker millions, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency engineer said Friday.

“Under the law, they (AK) are responsible for any contamination that might be present,” said Pablo Valentin, a remedial project manager at the EPA’s Region 5 headquarters in Chicago. Region 5 includes Ohio.

AK and the agency already have discussed the 120-acre site, 401 Augspurger Road, that AK has owned since 1994, AK Vice President of Public Affairs Alan McCoy said.

That’s one reason McCoy called the federal agency’s proposal to add the site to its national Superfund priority list of hazardous waste locations “puzzling, frankly.

“We’re surprised by that announcement, and the reason we’re surprised is that we’ve already entered into an agreement with the EPA to investigate the site and present a cleanup plan,” McCoy said.

Valentin said AK has cooperated and has given the agency a draft cleanup plan, which the agency is reviewing.

But based on what the agency knows today, Valentin said, it is likely the site will end up on the Superfund list. Placement there makes the site eligible for federal funds should AK not be able in the future to pay for its cleanup — and ensures that AK continues to cooperate with the EPA, he said.

AK’s immediate corporate predecessor, Armco Steel Co. L.P. (Limited Partnership), which existed from 1989 to 1994, used the site briefly, McCoy said. It was shut down for good in 1990 or 1991, he said.

“There’s nothing left there,” McCoy said.

But the EPA said in a statement this week that something is there — contamination of “metals, hydrocarbons, PCBs and other chemicals.”

The site is a half-mile from municipal water wells, the agency said. Asked if the area is a threat to drinking water, Valentin said: “At this moment, we don’t know. That’s why we’re doing the investigation.”

A “waste lagoon” and landfill in the area aren’t lined and have no system for collecting seeping water, the agency said. And contaminated sediment has been found in a stream that drains to the Great Miami River, it also said.

Placing the site on the Superfund program list gives the EPA authority to seek cleanup costs from entities the agency identifies as polluters. McCoy was unsure what impact that would have on AK.

“It’s an excellent question for the EPA,” he said.

A “typical” cleanup cost for Superfund sites is $10 million, Valentin said. But he added that he has seen cleanups performed for as little as $2 million.

The proposed listing was published in the Federal Register on Wednesday. Publication triggers a 60-day public comment period on the issue.

McCoy said Armco leased, then bought, the New Miami plant from a Columbus firm in the 1930s. The plant made coke and iron from 1937 to 1991, the EPA said.

“It was an ancient, small, little plant,” McCoy said.

To learn more about the site, or to comment, call EPA community involvement coordinator Zenny Sadlon at (312) 886-6682, Valentin said.

Published 05.03.03



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