Proposed regulations for iron and steel mills unlikely to reduce pollution

Middletown steel plant

US EPA recently proposed new regulations for iron and steel mills. There are just two corporations that will be covered by this rule, US Steel and Cleveland-Cliffs (which acquired AK Steel in Middletown in 2020).

Unfortunately, this rule does very little to reduce steel mill pollution. Middletown environmental justice communities are heavily affected by the Cleveland-Cliffs facility. We presented the following testimony on behalf of affected residents and will be working with them and other groups to try to get these rules strengthened to protect lives, health and property.

Oral comments for the Integrated Iron & Steel National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP)  proposed rule dated July 31, 2023 Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2002-0083

Comments from Marilyn Wall. I am a volunteer who has been working on behalf of people living near Cleveland-Cliffs’ Middletown Works for years.

People living near Cleveland-Cliffs’ Middletown Works have, for decades, made numerous reports about fallout and horrible odors from the steel mill. Neighbors of the mill, including Donna Ballinger, frequently experience their properties being covered with black particles, white and gray clumps, pieces of metal, kish, iron, coal, coke, glass, carbonaceous particles, calcium carbonate, various metals, silicon metalloid, aluminum and black splatter. The fallout is almost daily, covering cars, houses, yards, and damaging property. Many people report health impacts including worsening respiratory problems and headaches.

This proposed rule will not make any discernible impact on the adverse impacts this factory has had on the health and welfare of this community. Making matters worse, US EPA removed Ohio’s Air Nuisance Rule (ANR) from the state implementation plan in 2020, eliminating a tool that people were seeking to use in Middletown to address this chronic and very hazardous pollution.

The proposed NESHAP will only result in a nationwide decrease, across all facilities, of 560 tons per year of PM2.5. In 2020, Cleveland-Cliffs emitted 274 tons of PM2.5 into the Middletown community. The high levels of annual PM2.5 emissions from this single facility shows how insignificant and non-protective the proposed NESHAP is. Particulate matter consists of or carries numerous hazardous chemicals and metals with it and is so small it penetrates the lungs into the bloodstream.

In addition to strengthening this proposed NESHAP rule, US EPA must reinstate the ANR as a federally enforceable rule under Ohio’s state implementation plan and the Clean Air Act citizen suit provision.

The Environmental Justice impacts of the rule must ensure that the rule addresses “existing disproportionate impacts on the minority and/or low-income populations”.

The community neighboring Middletown Works is a largely ignored environmental justice community.

The local air agency does not timely respond to pollution reports but instead waits a day or two, even when multiple reports are received. In doing so, the agency avoids timely documenting or investigating the worst pollution events such as odors or clouds and other conditions may have changed by time agency personnel responds.

Despite over 100 years of steel mill operation, the state air agency has been unable or unwilling to determine the causes of chronic nuisance complaints that show chronic harm to health and welfare and require a fix for those problems.

Summarized information from US EPA’s EJ Screen, shows the percentage of low-income Middletown residents is as high as 88%. The percentage of minorities is high as 75%. The percentage with less than a high school education as high as 35%. Life expectancy as low as 66 years.

The proposed fenceline monitoring component of this rule is also not protective and does not correct the regulatory failures in Middletown. Monitoring should not be limited to chromium, but should extend to other metals and HAPs. Monitoring should be continuous, not every six days. Data should be provided to the public in real time.

Root cause analysis and plans for pollution reduction should be provided to the EPA and released to the public so that the community is aware of their exposure to hazards.

Opacity readings have not been a useful tool. Continuous monitoring and digital camera use is essential. The related data must be provided to the agency and to the public.

Work practices should require specific numeric performance standards and be verifiable.

We urge US EPA to strength this rule and the ability of both the agencies and residents to ensure the rules are both enforceable and the health and welfare of residents is assured.

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