U.S. Sues Steel Giant for Violating Environmental Laws

The U.S. Justice Department and the State of Ohio announced legal\r\naction against AK Steel Corp., charging the steel giant with\r\nviolating several environmental laws.

The U.S. Justice Department and the State of Ohio announced legal action against AK Steel Corp., charging the steel giant with violating several environmental laws at its Middletown, Ohio, facility.

The Justice Department, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery, on behalf of the Ohio EPA, assert that the Middletown-based AK Steel violated the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, a hazardous waste statute.

The federal lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati charges that the company has polluted an Ohio River tributary and has emitted largely uncontrolled amounts of pollutants into the air.

The lawsuit charges that AK Steel for years illegally discharges PCBs into Dicks Creek in the Mississippi River watershed.

On one occasion, Ohio inspectors detected PCBs at a concentration of 2.702 ug/L (ppb) in surface water. Ohio''s water quality standard for PCBs in surface water is 0.00079 ug/L.

The complaint also says that the company caused numerous chemical spills, at least two of which caused fish kills, one resulting in the death of about 12,700 fish.

In addition, AK Steel is charged with exceeding permit levels for heavy metals, nitrogen ammonia and cyanide on numerous occasions. On at least two occasions, the company exceeded its permit limits for cyanide by more than 1,500 percent.

The State of Ohio said it will move to intervene in the federal lawsuit to ensure compliance with Ohio''s environmental laws.

"The public cares about clean air and clean water," said Lois J. Schiffer, assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources. "Companies that take short cuts in controlling pollution threaten our environment. We will hold them accountable."

The United States is seeking significant civil penalties from AK Steel under the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.

Each statute authorizes a court to impose civil penalties of up to $25,000 for each day of violation prior to Jan. 31, 1997, and $27,500 for each day thereafter.

The federal complaint says that AK Steel violated these laws at various times from 1993 to the present.

"We will not allow companies to put our citizens and our most precious natural resources at risk by disregarding environmental laws," said Steve Herman, EPA assistant administrator of enforcement and compliance assurance. "We will take legal action necessary to protect the public health and the environment, in Ohio and across the nation."

Ohio will seek civil penalties of up to $25,000 per day per violation of clean air statutes and up to $10,000 per day per violation of clean water and hazardous waste statutes.

The complaint also seeks an order from the court requiring AK Steel to capture uncontrolled air emissions; perform corrective action to study and remedy releases of hazardous waste from the facility; and take other steps to protect the environment.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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