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David Sternberg, (215) 814-5548
PHILADELPHIA - AK Steel has settled alleged environmental violations at the company’s steel mill in Butler, Pa., the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Justice Department announced today. In a proposed consent decree lodged in federal court today, AK Steel has agreed to a $1.2 million settlement consisting of a $300,000 penalty and $900,000 in projects which will reduce smog-producing ozone in Pennsylvania.
“This innovative settlement goes beyond mere compliance and provides real environmental benefits. Today’s settlement will contribute to improved air quality in Pennsylvania and reduced emissions of chlorofluorocarbons which deplete the stratospheric ozone layer,” said EPA Regional Administrator Donald S. Welsh.
AK Steel, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Middletown, Ohio-based AK Steel Holding Corp., manufactures specialty steel products by melting scrap steel in electric arc furnaces at its plant in western Pennsylvania. In the summer of 2000, EPA inspectors documented several violations of federal and state environmental laws at the AK Steel mill.
“The emissions reductions required by this settlement will lead to cleaner air and significant environmental benefits,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas L. Sansonetti. “Manufacturers must properly monitor emissions, conduct inspections, and train employees on hazardous waste management to ensure their operations don't endanger the health of their employees or the public.”
In addition to the $300,000 penalty, AK Steel has agreed to implement three supplemental environmental projects, at an estimated cost of $900,000. These projects go beyond the requirements of federal and state environmental regulations.
First, the company will fund a refrigerant recycling program for the residents of Butler County. The $30,000 program will be funded entirely by AK Steel and coordinated through Butler County to collect and recycle refrigerators, air conditioners and other refrigerant-containing appliances. After properly removing the ozone-depleting substances, like Freon, the appliances will be disposed of properly. More information will be announced on how residents of Butler County may participate in this program in the near future.
Second, AK Steel will remove and destroy the CFC-based refrigerants in at least 17 refrigeration units, replacing these refrigerants, like Freon, with less harmful substances.
Third, the company will retire 159 tons of nitrogen oxide pollution credits (with a current market value of about $225,000) which it now owns as part of the Clean Air Act’s market-based pollution reduction system. Retiring 159 tons of nitrogen oxide pollution “credits” will reduce AK Steel’s Butler Works emissions, resulting in less smog-production.
In the government’s judicial complaint, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice on behalf of EPA, the U.S. alleged that AK Steel:
*Violated federal and state hazardous waste regulations through improper storage and disposal of baghouse dust generated at the plant. The baghouse dust, containing high concentrations of the known human carcinogen hexavalent chromium, was stored on the ground at the facility. AK Steel was also cited for failing to conduct inspections of hazardous waste storage tanks, and failing to train employees on hazardous waste management.
*Violated the Clean Water Act with an unpermitted discharge of process waters and storm water to the Sawmill Run Reservoir, a tributary of the Connoquenessing River. In September 2000, EPA ordered AK Steel to cease this unpermitted discharge. The company subsequently obtained a Clean Water Act permit for this discharge.
*Violated Clean Air Act safeguards designed to prevent equipment leaks of ozone-depleting refrigerants containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on 145 separate occasions from mid-1998 through the fall of 2002. CFCs deplete the ozone layer which protects the earth from ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet radiation exposure results in increased incidence of skin cancers and cataracts, suppression of the immune system, and damage to plants including crops and aquatic organisms.
The proposed consent decree is subject to a 30-day public comment period and court approval. As part of the settlement announced today, the company has neither admitted nor denied liability for the alleged violations.