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:
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
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