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Steel Mill Clean-Up Issues

Friday, April 20, 2001 at 4:13 PM

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Yesterday we heard about what happens to the economy - and to people's lives - when a steel mill shuts down. What we didn't hear was how the closure of a major industrial site affects the physical environment. Who will oversee clean up after LTV's west side mill closes? And how can that site be turned into land that attracts new businesses? 90.3's Karen Schaefer has this report on what happened in another community - and what could happen here.

Karen Schaefer- They called it Black Monday. That was the day in 1977 when the first steel mill in Youngstown closed. In four short years, a domino effect of mill closings turned this former capital of U.S. steel into an industrial wasteland.

By the early 1980’s abandoned steel mills and other industrial sites stretched for forty miles along the Mahoning River Valley. The closures blighted 1,400 acres in the communities of Youngstown, Campbell, and Struthers. They blighted the local economy as well. Nancy Haraburda is an educator with the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor.

Nancy Haraburda- Well, they call it Black Monday because it was on Monday, September 19, 1977, that the first of the major mills here in the area closed, followed over the next couple of years by four more. And it was the permanent loss of nearly 25,000 jobs in the Mahoning Valley. This was life. This was the way life was, working ion the steel mills.

KS- Creating new jobs was vital to keeping the Mahoning Valley alive. To do that, Youngstown and its neighbors had to first clean up old industrial sites, then turn them into land that could attract new businesses. 25 years later, that process is finally nearing completion. But when LTV closes its west mill this year the initial clean-up will be relatively quick. Rod Beals heads the Emergency and Remedial Clean-Up Division of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Rod Beals- I think today we have better established clean-up standards, more technologies to apply, a better understanding of what clean-up may be needed. Many of those were lacking in the 60’s and 70’s when the steel mills went out of business and closure was performed by dynamite.

KS- Beals says that, in all cases, the industry that caused the pollution is liable for clean-up. At LTV he says the process will probably start with the EPA’s Cessation of Operations program. As soon as the mill is shut down, LTV will be required to remove all chemicals and hazardous waste or secure them on-site so that nothing remains that could harm people or local air and water resources. Because the EPA requires more on-going clean-up than it used to, Beals says further action may not be necessary. But if LTV decides to sell the property, another EPA program could offer them a break on future clean-up. Caroline Watkins helps administer the Voluntary Action Program.

Caroline Watkins- Well, the Voluntary Action Program enables a property owner or a prospective purchaser to evaluate hazardous substances that may or may not have been released on their property and determine whether or not it is at a safe level or not.

KS- If a company like LTV Steel goes beyond the assessment to actually clean up contaminated soils or remove underground materials, Watkins says they may be eligible for a covenant not to sue, a document that releases the polluter from future liability. She believes it’s unlikely that remedial clean-up like that faced by Youngstown would be necessary. But however clean, a brownfield site once used by a steel mill may still not be ready for re-use by another industry. Youngstown’s Director of Development John Chagnot says he’s been working on that problem for years.

John Chagnot- We’ve essentially converted all of these steel properties. I mean, we’ve probably invested close to ten million dollars in new infrastructure, new roadways. We’ve probably led the nation in the redevelopment of brownfield properties - out of necessity, of course.

KS- Chagnot estimates the city of Youngstown has spent million dollars on developing new industrial parks from former brownfields. That development has netted the city 5,000 new jobs. While that can’t replace the 15,000 high-paying steel jobs that were lost in the 70’s, Chagnot is not alone in urging cities hit by plant closures to move quickly into the future. Nancy Haraburda at the Youngstown Steel Museum puts it this way.

NH- I think we’ve learned from that. A lot of people have looked to us also that it doesn’t happen to them, that they try to diversify into different types of industries.

KS- LTV Spokesman Mark Tomasch says it’s too soon for his company to be making decisions about selling the mill site. Nor has the City of Cleveland expressed public interest in purchasing it for redevelopment. Although much will be lost when the Cleveland mill closes, there’s one loss that no one will mourn. That’s the sparkling gray dust - or graphite - that has plagued Tremont residents for years. In Youngstown, Karen Schaefer, 90.3, 90.3 WCPN.

Additional Information

* Youngstown Historical Center for Industry and Labor
* LTV Steel

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