Sparrows Point owner to pay penalty, cut emissions

The new owner of the Sparrows Point steel mill has agreed to pay a $135,000 penalty and resolve alleged violations of state pollution control laws that occurred in 2009 when part of a blast furnace ignited, state officials said Thursday.

RG Steel Sparrows LLC, which purchased Sparrows Point in April, has signed an agreement with the Maryland Department of the Environment, or MDE, and the Maryland office of the attorney general to reduce emissions from the blast furnace.

The money will go to the Maryland Clean Air Fund.

Details of the steps RG Steel plans to take to minimize pollution will be outlined in a consent decree that resolves a lawsuit filed in September by the MDE against the plant's owners.

The 2009 fire in the blast furnace, which is used to extract and melt iron, started after a pressure surge caused "bleeder," or pressure release, valves to open. Carbon monoxide and particulate matter escaped at such force that coke — a raw material used during iron extraction — was forced into the valves.

The gas and coke ignited, sending a plume of flame from the mill, according to the MDE and the attorney general's office.

Under the consent decree, RG Steel must institute practices to reduce emissions by preventing unnecessary or extended openings of pressure relief valves.

A company spokeswoman said in a prepared statement that RG Steel was working with the MDE and would follow the terms of the consent decree.

"RG Steel has evaluated and revised operating and monitoring procedures to address the issues covered by the agreement and will make the agreed-upon payment to the attorney general's office to conclude this matter," said the spokeswoman, Bette Kovach, in the statement.

The consent decree also addresses alleged environmental violations in other areas of Sparrows Point.

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