AK Steel Signs Clean Water Deal

Residents in Butler, Pa., will finally have clean drinking water\r\nthanks to a consent agreement between EPA and AK Steel.

Residents in Butler, Pa., will finally have clean water to drink thanks to a consent agreement between EPA and AK Steel.

The agreement comes in the wake years of AK Steel''s discharging nitrate, a scouring agent, into Connoquenessing Creek, which the area uses as a drinking water supply.

"AK Steel has made a legally binding commitment that the residents of Butler County will no longer be at risk from pollution of their drinking water," said Thomas Voltaggio, acting EPA regional administrator.

This agreement will provide a safety net for the drinking water before a new discharge permit for the AK Steel plant is in place.

The agreement under the Safe Drinking Water Act requires AK Steel to provide a filtration system to remove harmful nitrates from the water at the backup water intake on the Connoquenessing Creek, 21 miles downstream from the company''s stainless steel plant in Butler.

The finished water must be treated to contain less than 10 milligrams per liter (mg/1) of nitrates.

Until the filtration system is in place, AK Steel will deliver bottled drinking water at no cost to residents in the area when nitrate levels exceed 10 (mg/1).

The agreement requires AK Steel to reduce the amount of nitrate it discharges to the creek from its Butler plant to 999 pounds per day by Oct. 31, 2002 so that it no longer poses a threat.

Beginning in 1995, AK Steel more than tripled its discharge of nitrate to the creek from its Butler plant -- as much as 29,000 pounds per day -- causing dangerously high concentrations of nitrate in Connoquenessing Creek.

Drinking water with high concentrations of nitrates can cause serious illness and death in infants under six months of age from a condition known as "blue baby syndrome."

Too much nitrate reduces the capacity of blood to carry oxygen, turning skin blue, causing shortness of breath, and depriving the brain of oxygen, which impairs metabolism, thinking and other bodily functions.

EPA''s health-based standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act sets a maximum contaminant level of 10 parts per million of nitrate.

Water samples from Connoquesnessing Creek in the 30 miles downstream from AK Steel routinely show nitrate levels above 10 parts per million.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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