Press Release

BALTIMORE, MD (Oct. 13, 2011) – The Maryland Department of the Environment and the Office of the Attorney General today announced an agreement with the new owner of the Sparrows Point steel mill to resolve alleged violations of the State’s air pollution control laws at the facility’s blast furnace.

The agreement requires RG Steel Sparrows Point LLC to take steps to minimize emissions from the blast furnace. In 2009, under the operation of prior owner Severstal Sparrows Point LLC, a pressure surge caused the escape of burning gas and iron-making material and a visible flame shooting from the furnace.

The agreement, outlined in a consent decree entered Oct. 4 in Baltimore County Circuit Court, also requires RG Steel to pay $135,000 to the Maryland Clean Air Fund.

"Governor O’Malley is strongly committed to the continuing improvement and protection of Maryland's environment," MDE Secretary Robert M. Summers said. “The steps that must be taken at Sparrows Point under this agreement are intended to minimize the future occurrence of such releases from the blast furnace.”

“We all breathe the same air and keeping it as clean as possible is vitally important to the health of every Marylander,” said Attorney General Douglas F. Gansler. “This agreement will help our neighbors who live and work near Sparrows Point and reinforces our commitment to promoting a healthy environment.”

The consent decree resolves a lawsuit MDE filed against RG Steel on Sept. 9 in Baltimore County Circuit Court. That suit was prompted by the 2009 incident at the facility’s L-blast furnace, a tall, chimney-like structure used to extract, reduce and melt iron. The furnace has emergency “bleeder valves,” which are designed to open to prevent over-pressurization that could lead to a breach or explosion. During normal operations, the bleeders are closed and do not emit any pollutants.

On Sept. 29, 2009, a pressure surge caused the bleeder valves to open. At the same time, a batch of iron-rich “coke” used in the production process was being fed into the furnace. The force of the escaping blast furnace gas – containing the pollutants carbon monoxide and particulate matter – forced coke out of some of the bleeder valves. The escaping blast furnace gas and coke ignited, resulting in the visible flame.

RG Steel purchased the Sparrows Point facility from Severstal on April 1, 2011. The consent decree requires RG Steel to implement practices to minimize emissions from the blast furnace by preventing unnecessary or prolonged activation of its pressure relief valves.

The consent decree also resolves alleged violations involving the steel-making facility’s sintering plant, blast furnace casthouse, blast furnace stove stack, basic oxygen furnace shop, cold reduction mill and Pennwood Power Station.