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Foes say emissions a concern with AK's backup coke quench stati

By Thomas Gnau

Journal Business Writer


Environmental activists opposed to letting AK Steel Corp. use a backup coke quench station are quick these days to note this number: 36.5.

That's the number of tons of particulate pollution AK's backup station emitted last year when it was used with emergency permission from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, according to Kurt Smith, an environmental compliance specialist with the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services. The latter agency monitors air quality in Southwest Ohio.

"It's a pretty big chunk," said Marilyn Wall, a volunteer with the Sierra Club's Ohio chapter.

It's more than the emissions the station would be allowed under a permit AK wants in order to use the backup station again, activists note. As proposed in an OEPA draft permit, the backup station would be allowed emissions of no more than 24.69 tons a year.

Alan McCoy, AK's vice president of public affairs, countered in part Thursday by calling the activists' objection an example of "tortured logic." He also said the emergency exemption the OEPA gave AK last year imposed no emissions limit.

From Sept. 12, 2000, to Oct. 23, 2000, the backup station emitted 36.5 tons of particulate matter, Smith said.

The station uses water to cool hot coke emerging from an oven, with particle-laden steam resulting. In making steel, coke fuels the blast furnace. It takes about 7,000 gallons of water to quench a railroad car of coke, McCoy said.

The backup station is simply a "header pipe and four water sprays," or nozzles, McCoy said.

Two environmental regulators didn't appear to agree Thursday on whether the backup station exceeded an emissions limit last year -- or if there even was a limit.

Smith said the station was under no limit.

"They did not have an emission (excess) because there wasn't an emissions limit," he said.

McCoy, after consulting with AK staff, agreed with Smith.

But one OEPA official wasn't certain.

"For me, we're traveling on some uncharted waters," said Alan Lloyd, an environmental specialist with OEPA's Division of Air Pollution Control.

Lloyd on Thursday initially said there "potentially" was a violation of the OEPA exemption that allowed AK to use the station last year.

But he also said: "At this juncture, that is still up in the air. We still haven't made a decision.

"The OEPA is going to look into it."

AK's main coke quench tower needed maintenance last year, so the company sought, and received, OEPA permission to use a backup station.

OEPA officials will decide whether to award AK a final permit for the backup station after weighing a recommendation from the Hamilton County Department of Environmental Services.

McCoy said the draft permit would allow AK to use the backup station no more than 27 days a year.

He also said the backup station doesn't have "baffles" -- metal slats designed to stop particulate matter drifting upward. That's one reason why the backup station, environmental regulators have said, would have higher emissions than AK's main coke quench tower.

Most matter that escapes falls to nearby ground or is carried by prevailing winds toward the company's hot strip mill, McCoy said.

"This is not a fine dust that gets airborne," he said.


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