Settlement Requires AK Steel To Spend Millions For Cleanup, Investigation Of Ohio Site
AK Steel Corp. will be required to spend about $12 million to $13 million for investigation, cleanup activities at a Middletown, Ohio, site under a settlement with federal and state officials, along with two citizen groups.
The settlement resolves claims that discharges from AK Steel's steel plant pose a threat to human health and the environment, and violated federal and state environmental statutes and regulations.
Under the settlement, AK Steel commits to clean up polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB)-contaminated sediments from two streams that are tributaries to the Great Miami River and to remove contaminated soils from adjacent floodplain areas. The settlement, embodied in a consent decree lodged on April 3 with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, also requires the company to perform a comprehensive assessment of other releases of contaminants from the steel plant and evaluate cleanup alternatives. AK Steel estimates the work required by the settlement will cost approximately $12-$13 million.
The consent decree also requires AK Steel to comply with specified requirements of the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act and pay a civil penalty of $460,000, which will be split between the United States and the state of Ohio. The settlement also includes AK Steel's commitment to spend an additional $750,000 on an environmentally beneficial project that will remove ozone-depleting refrigerants from certain equipment at the Middletown plant.
"By removing contamination from areas currently known to contain significant polychlorinated biphenyl concentrations, AK Steel will immediately begin cleanup work to protect the environment and reduce the potential for human exposure to PCBs," said Sue Ellen Wooldridge, assistant attorney general for the U.S. Justice Department's (DOJ) Environment and Natural Resources Division. "Equally important, the systematic evaluation of releases of contaminants and potential remedial alternatives will assure long term protection from contamination resulting from decades of manufacturing operations at this plant."
In cooperation with the state of Ohio, the federal government filed suit against AK Steel in June of 2000 to enforce provisions of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), the federal law that regulates facilities that managed hazardous waste. The state, the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) joined the lawsuit. Among other things, the lawsuit sought to address discharges or releases of PCBs from the plant into the environment, including Monroe Ditch and Dicks Creek, which ultimately flow into the Great Miami River. PCBs are persistent, bioaccumulative compounds that produce a variety of toxic effects in fish and wildlife and are carcinogenic to humans. This settlement provides for the removal of PCBs from Monroe Ditch and two major sections of Dicks Creek, as well as adjacent floodplain areas.
"This action resolves issues related to a variety of environmental laws," said Thomas V. Skinner, EPA Region 5 Administrator. "It is the culmination of six years of litigation and negotiations. This settlement will result in environmental improvement in Dicks Creek basin for Middletown-area residents and workers at the AK Steel plant."
The Middletown plant produces a variety of steel products, including flat-rolled steel for use in the automobile industry. Over the course of many years, wastes from various industrial operations were disposed in several lagoons and landfills located on the plant site. A number of contaminants, including PCBs, have been detected in soils, sediment and other environmental media at and near the plant. Historically, PCBs were used at the plant in electrical transformers and capacitors and in hydraulic systems.
Other provisions of the settlement require AK Steel to:
- Implement specified restoration activities in Dicks Creek and Monroe Ditch following removal of contaminated sediments in order to minimize channel incision and restore biological productivity to the extent practical.
- Remove and properly dispose of PCB-contaminated sediments from previously identified PCB "hot spots" at AK Steel's plant.
- Install a phytoremediation barrier to control seeps along a 3000 foot long section along the south bank of Dicks Creek.
- Continue operation and maintenance of an existing interceptor trench system used to control seeps previously discovered at the plant until no PCBs are detected in the interceptor trench treatment system for a period of 18 months.
- Inspect the banks of Dicks Creek and Monroe Ditch for new seeps on a regular basis, sample any seeps discovered and submit a plan for control of the seeps, as appropriate.
- Maintain existing signs and fencing designed to limit human contact with PCBs in Dicks Creek.
- Comply with all federal and state statutes applicable to sinter plant operations, if AK Steel later decides to restart the sinter plant, and conduct a particulate emissions test of the sinter plant promptly after restarting the plant.
- Comply with specified permitting requirements under Ohio state law.
- Pay $450,000 to the citizen groups for their claim for costs and attorney fees.
"We are pleased to have reached this landmark agreement by working cooperatively with the U.S. EPA, Ohio EPA, Sierra Club and NRDC," said James L. Wainscott, chairman, president and CEO of AK Steel. "This agreement, and the investigation and clean-up work that will follow, is yet another tangible example of AK Steel's commitment to the environment, improved relationships and to the citizens of Middletown and its surrounding communities."
A copy of the consent decree lodged on April 3 is available on DOJ's Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/enrd/open.html.
This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2006 issue of Environmental Protection.