AK Steel signs Zelienople clean water deal

Customers of the Zelienople Borough, Butler County water system will finally have clean water to drink, thanks to a consent agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and AK Steel.

PHILADELPHIA, March 2, 2001 — Customers of the Zelienople Borough, Butler County water system will finally have clean water to drink, thanks to a consent agreement between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and AK Steel.

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

"AK Steel has made a legally binding commitment that the residents of Zelienople will no longer be at risk from pollution of their drinking water. EPA is committed to getting safe drinking water for all citizens," said acting EPA Regional Administrator Thomas Voltaggio.

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

The agreement announced today under the Safe Drinking Water Act requires AK Steel to provide a filtration system to remove harmful nitrates from the water at the borough's backup water intake on the Connoquenessing Creek, 21 miles downstream from the company's stainless steel plant on Route 8, Butler, Pa. The finished water must be treated to contain less than 10 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of nitrates.

Until the filtration system is in place, AK Steel will deliver bottled drinking water at no cost to the homes of all Zelienople customers when nitrate levels exceed 10 (mg/l).

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

AK Steel must identify and sample all wells adjacent to the creek within 30 miles downstream of its Butler facility to see if they are polluted by nitrates. If they are, AK Steel will provide drinking water to the owners of those wells. In addition, AK Steel will pay $60,000 to upgrade Zelienople's water plant, dams and reservoir.

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.

These discharges increased dramatically in recent years as AK Steel increased production of stainless steel in Butler. Nitrates are a waste byproduct of the pickling liquor used to scour finished steel. Discharges into the creek rose from an average 8,000 pounds per day to 24,000 pounds per day from 1995 to 2000.

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. These symptoms can develop rapidly in infants.

The EPA's health-based standard under the Safe Drinking Water Act sets a maximum contaminant level of 10 (mg/l) or 10 parts per million of nitrate. Concentrations greater than that in drinking water are unhealthy for all people, especially young children, and pose an acute health risk to infants under six months of age, pregnant women and nursing mothers.

Water samples from Connoquenessing Creek in the 30 miles downstream from AK Steel routinely show nitrate levels above 10 mg/l. Levels of nitrate as high as 100 mg/l, have been measured on numerous occasions. The highest level measured was 175 mg/l on October 26, 1999.

More than 1,400 households get their water from the Zelienople water system, including 4,150 people in Zelienople and 250 people in Marion Township, which purchases drinking water from the Zelienople water system. For two years, Zelienople Borough - at the suggestion of state officials - has provided bottled water to pregnant women and infants at the borough's expense.

On June 6, 2000, EPA issued an emergency order to AK Steel Corp. to provide an alternative water source to Zelienople Borough and reduce dangerous nitrate discharges from its Butler steel mill. Today's agreement resolves the legal issues arising from that order and obligates AK Steel to make good on the agreement or face substantial penalties.

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