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Published Monday, February 14, 2000,
in the Akron Beacon Journal.

  

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Report says steel plants pose danger

  • Two Stark steel makers deny citizen group's claims that residents are at risk

    BY BOB DOWNING
    Beacon Journal staff writer

    Two Stark County steel makers were among the Ohio companies releasing the most cancer-causing and hormone-disrupting chemicals in 1997, according to a new report by Ohio Citizen Action.

    But officials of American Steel Foundries in Alliance and the Timken Co.'s Faircrest plant in Canton Township insist that their plants do not pose a health threat.

    Mark Buehlman, an environmental expert with American Steel's parent company, Amsted Industries Inc., called the report ``a grave disservice to the people in the community . . . and an effort to unduly alarm people when there is no risk.''

    Ohio industries released more than 26 million pounds of cancer-causing chemicals and 67 million pounds of chemicals that can cause damage to hormonal, developmental or reproductive systems, Citizen Action says. The volume of cancer-causing chemicals grew from 1996 by 370,000 pounds statewide; the release of hormone- changing chemicals fell by 1 million pounds.
    Citizen Action's data came from its analysis of 1997 Toxic Release Inventory data compiled by federal and state agencies from information furnished by the companies.

    But the data labels all production byproducts as ``releases,'' regardless of whether the waste went into the air, landfills, sewer systems or streams or was recycled, shipped off-site for processing or reused.

    Experts say it is almost impossible to say whether such legally permitted releases pose a health threat because the data does not include concentrations of toxic releases. And it is impossible to know how much exposure, if any, neighbors or workers might have had because so many variables are involved.

    American Steel Foundries, with nearly 1.1 million pounds in 1997, was No. 2 in the state for its release of cancer-causing chemicals.

    Most of American Steel's total came from its use of chromium- laced sand in foundry molds, Buehlman said. After repeated use, the chromite sand was shipped to an on-site landfill for disposal.

    He said Citizen Action's data is correct but the risk was minimal.

    The major source of cancer- causing chemicals in Ohio is chromium compounds, followed by styrene used in plastics and coatings, and dichloromethane used in rubber, plastics, oils, paints, cosmetics and pesticides.

    The Timken plant, with 5.3 million pounds, was No. 2 in the state for production of hormone-disrupting chemicals.

    Most of Timken's total can be traced to zinc dust that is collected during steel-making, said William Fladung, the company's general manager of environmental affairs.

    The dust -- up to 4.1 million pounds of the Timken total -- is shipped to a processing plant near Toledo for treatment. It then goes to a hazardous-waste landfill outside Toledo.

    The zinc does not pose a health or environmental risk, Fladung said.

    The top three chemicals in Ohio that can cause such hormone-disrupting problems are methanol used in paints, cements, inks and dyes; xylene used in chemicals, machinery and paint strippers, and acetonitrile used in acrylic fibers and solvents.

    Such chemicals can reduce sperm counts and hormone levels; cause birth defects, psychological and behavioral problems; kill certain cells, and cause tumors.

    The release of such data is important because such numbers create public pressure for the companies to adopt pollution prevention programs that can reduce such totals, said Sandy Buchanan, a coauthor of the Citizen Action report.

    Environmentalists fear that such public right-to-know efforts are under attack in Ohio, where the Ohio legislature has passed two laws that permit polluters to keep pollution information secret, she said.

    Citizen Action said the information should be available from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for public review after four months and the public should not have to wait a year or more to see it.

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