Neighbors of Mittal Steel call on plant to reduce pollution

(Plain Press, April 2007) “Mittal Steel: Clean Up for Real” is the message posted on yard signs in neighborhoods in the southeast and southwest sides of Cleveland which border or are downwind of Cleveland’s largest air polluter. (The plant emitted 5.7 million pounds of toxic compounds in 2004, according to the U.S. EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory).

Residents in the Tremont, Slavic Village and Old Brooklyn neighborhoods have joined with Ohio Citizen Action to form a new group called Neighbors of Mittal Steel. The group recently held a press conference and an Environmental Justice Forum to bring attention to the failure of Mittal Steel to install updated air pollution equipment at its Cleveland plants. The group hopes to pressure Mittal Steel to reduce levels of air pollution.

Ohio Citizen Action Director Sandy Buchanan noted that most of the pollution control equipment at the Cleveland plant is twenty to forty years old. She said that the richest steel company in the world could afford to do better. “This could be a state of the art facility”, she said.

Liz Ilg, an Ohio Citizen Action Program Director, says Mittal Steel collects no real data on its emissions in reports it is required to file. Instead, Mittal uses estimates based on emissions from other steel plants with better pollution control equipment, said Ilg.

Neighbors of Mittal Steel and Ohio Citizen Action are raising the important issue of impact on nearby residents as a result of the air pollution released by Mittal Steel. Two families living on Independence Avenue, literally in the backyard of the steel mill, helped to describe what they are living with at a March 13th press conference held on the front lawn of their double house.

Donna Levandowski says the Mittal Steel “stinks real bad.” She also complained of the noise and truck traffic from the plant and the soot that gets on everything. The orange- colored dirt from the plant “gets in your clothes and doesn’t come out,” she said. She notes the rolls of paper towels she goes through wiping off soot in and around her house.

However, Levandowski’s greatest concern is the pollution’s impact on her children. Both she and her seven-year-old daughter suffer from migraine headaches. Her two-year-old son has asthma, eczema, and skin allergies. “When he comes in from playing in the grass, he has a skin rash. When the children use the swing set, I have to wipe orangish soot from their hands” she said.

Denise Denham, who lives upstairs from Levandowski, took a baby wipe and went to her window to take a swipe for reporters at the press conference. The soot-covered baby wipe shown to reporters had small metallic particles in it that sparkled like glitter.

In a testimonial given in a Citizens’ Audit produced by Ohio Citizen Action, neighbors Levandowski and Denham said, “We’ve taken ourselves and our kids to see the doctors at an environmental health clinic. They recommended that our children shouldn’t play outside because of the heavy metals in the grass and soil. Our urine tests came back with some high levels for copper, arsenic, manganese, lead, zinc, mercury and alkaline phosphates. These are the same pollutants coming from the mill.”

Residents of the Tremont neighborhood are also experiencing the impact of pollution from Mittal Steel. Tremont resident Adam Harvey testified in the Citizens’ Audit. “I’ve lived in Tremont since November of 2004. I live on the south bluff overlooking I-490, so I’m one of the first people to smell the steel mill, and I’m in a prime position to see the flares. In the time I’ve lived here I’ve seen “snowfalls” of particulate matter, and have had to deal with large amounts of dirt covering everything from my car, to my grill, to blowing in my apartment. I’ve woken up at night, mainly during the summer, because the sulfurous smell was so strong. I’ve also gotten headaches from the smell. There are also significant amounts of noise pollution. I can hear their loudspeaker on a regular basis and sometimes feel low frequency vibrations from whatever is going on down in the valley. I’ve talked with many neighbors, comparing notes of our experiences with the steel mill, and although the soot isn’t as obvious as it was in old days, you can still see its effects on flags and siding in the neighborhood.”

Ohio Citizen Action Program Director Ilg points out that swipe samples taken by Ohio Citizen Action in houses on Independence Road near Mittal Steel and in the Tremont neighborhood contained high amounts of zinc and manganese. They also contained chromium and copper. These heavy metals are used in the steelmaking process and consistent with emission reports from Mittal Steel, said Ilg.

According to the Ohio Citizens’ Audit, the 2005 United States Environmental Protection Agency Toxic Release Inventory indicates that Mittal Steel reported releasing “25,940 pounds of zinc, 956 pounds of hydrochloric acid, 3,951 pounds of manganese, 396 pounds of lead, 125 pounds of vanadium, 103 pounds of chromium, 51 pounds of copper, 28 pounds of cadmium and 12 pounds of mercury into Cleveland’s air in 2005.”

The Ohio Citizen Action Audit cites an American Lung Association report titled the Health Effects of Ozone and Particle Pollution, and says, “Scientists now report that fine particle pollution is the most dangerous health risk caused by air pollution.” The audit further states: “Fine particles cause lung damage, aggravated asthma, heart disease, bronchitis, irregular heartbeat, nonfatal heart attacks, and premature death for people with heart or lung disease. Children, the elderly, and people with existing heart or lung disease are most sensitive to exposure to fine particles. In addition, exercising outdoors in particle pollution can decrease lung capacity.”

Given this analysis of the health risks of particle pollution, Tremont residents who purchased expensive homes with breathtaking views of the industrial flats may be literally having their breath taken away. Ohio Citizen Action took wipes in the Tremont neighborhood from siding on houses on Buhrer, from a garbage can at Clark Field, and from a windowsill, porch railing and front porch on W. 14th. Manganese, zinc, chromium and copper were present in measurable amounts in all the samples. Vanadium was present in two of the samples on W. 14th.

The report of decreased lung capacity resulting from outdoor exercise breathing particle-polluted air does not bode well for the city of Cleveland’s plans to highlight a series of multipurpose trails – many of them in neighborhoods which receive regular deposits of particulate matter from Mittal Steel.
A guest speaker at the press conference on Independence Road was Lois Gibbs, an environmental crusader who battled the notorious Love Canal toxic waste dump in her Niagara Falls, New York neighborhood. Gibbs said, “In 29 years of advocacy, this is one of the hardest-hit neighborhoods that I have ever seen.” Gibbs noted that many of the low-income residents living around Mittal Steel are trapped – unable to sell their homes and move away from the toxins that are affecting their health. Gibbs noted residents’ observations of increased pollution at night and weekends, when monitors are not working, is a typical tactic of industrial polluters.

Gibbs, who now heads the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, said “Cleveland is the poorest city in the country, and Mittal Steel has more neighbors than any steel mill in the country.” The Ohio Citizen Action Audit notes that 392,276 residents and half of the Cleveland Municipal Schools District’s school buildings are within five miles of Mittal Steel.

Despite these alarming health concerns raised about Mittal Steel, the Ohio Citizen Action Audit reports that the Cleveland of Cleveland Division of Air Quality, under contract with the Ohio EPA to enforce air pollution laws, has done little to pressure the plant to clean up its act. The audit notes that the city doesn’t have the equipment to conduct its own independent tests of stack emissions or ambient air emissions and, for a required report in 2005, used data compiled by a firm hired by Mittal Steel.

Mittal Steel has not responded to residents’ requests for information on any investments in air pollution equipment it has made since taking over the Cleveland plant in April, 2005. Reports submitted by Mittal Steel to the Ohio EPA in 2006, as cited in the Ohio Citizens’ Audit, indicate that there are no pollution controls on many parts of the facility and all of the pollution control equipment in the plant predates 1990.

An Ohio Citizen Action flier being distributed in neighborhood meetings states, “If Mittal Steel installed pollution control equipment at their blast furnace casthouses similar to what other Ohio steel mills have in place, they would reduce these emissions by seven times. AK Steel, a much smaller company in Middletown, Ohio, has just invested $66 million in state-of-the-art pollution control equipment designed to reduce its particle emissions by 90%.”

Editor’s Note: Ohio Citizen Action’s report on Mittal Steel referenced above, Smoke and Mirrors: Mittal Steel’s Playbook to Cover Up Their Pollution. Citizens’ Audit of Mittal Steel Cleveland Works, January 3, 2007 can be found at: www.ohiocitizen.org/campaigns/isg/smoke.pdf. For further information about Ohio Citizen Action or for information on the next meeting of Neighbors of Mittal Steel call Liz Ilg of Ohio Citizen Action at 861-5200.

 

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