Good Neighbor Campaigns

Industry wields sway over air pollution rules, enforcement

A chemical plant looms behind a swing set in Houston. Pat Sullivan/AP

Paint-eating pollution

WASHINGTON, DC — “Middletown, Ohio, has lived under the cloud of AK Steel for nearly a century. The largest employer in the Ohio town 40 miles north of Cincinnati, AK Steel has for decades pumped out pollution that takes the paint off residents’ cars and settles in their siding, some say.

‘It got into people’s gardens, and kids playing in the yard would come in with their feet black from the soot,’ said longtime resident Rachael Belz.

In 2000, the Department of Justice sued AK Steel over violations of the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency joined the suit, which settled out of court and required the company to clean up Dicks Creek, which runs between the facility and a neighboring school. AK Steel committed to $66 million in pollution-control upgrades.

The facility remains on the EPA’s Clean Air Act watch list, and some say problems linger. ‘We still have soot in our house,’ said Belz, who suffers from asthma. ‘You can’t sit outside on your porch for more than 10 to 15 minutes without crap flying into your coffee.’

An AK Steel spokesman said the company does not know why it is on the watch list and has complied with regulations. He declined further comment.

During the civil case, residents launched a campaign to pressure the company to meet its promises. Elected officials, community organizer Belz said, made themselves scarce.

But politicians, from the city council to the governor’s office to U.S. Rep. John Boehner – a regular beneficiary of AK Steel contributions – were on hand to cheer the company’s 2010 expansion plan. Boehner did not reply to interview requests.

‘We do our campaigns in part,’ Belz said, ‘because we can’t count on our politicians.'”

— Ronnie Greene, Chris Hamby and Jim Morris, iwatch news

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