Republic Steel lead emissions saga continues in Canton with 'elevated' readings

CANTON − Republic Steel has to follow new regulations related to community air monitors, is expected to receive a U.S. EPA designation for not meeting national air quality standards and could face a civil lawsuit in the near future.

State and local officials discussed the latest enforcement actions related to the Eighth Street NE steel plant's lead emissions during a community meeting Tuesday at Edward "Peel" Coleman Community Center. Among the updates was an amendment to the court order that's governed operations since July 2021.

The consent order for preliminary injunction required Republic Steel to take steps to reduce lead emissions after the plant exceeded the national limit for the third time in four years. It also set stricter emission limits, which Republic Steel exceeded soon after and therefore had to temporarily halt leaded steel production last year.

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The National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for lead is a three-month average not to exceed 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter. Lead can harm "almost every organ and system in your body," and children 6 years old or younger are most vulnerable, according to the EPA.

A message seeking comment was left late Tuesday with a Republic Steel contact.

At the request of community members, two air monitors were installed in April at Marietta Avenue and Georgetown Road NE. They're in addition to a monitor near the plant's southern border on Georgetown Road that the Ohio EPA and Canton Air Pollution Control installed in 2017.

Bob Hodanbosi, with the Ohio EPA, said that the new community monitors showed "elevated" daily lead emissions.

"They were elevated to the level that if these readings would have been at the fenceline monitor, the company would have had to take certain action, either investigate what the cause of the elevated readings were or take further action to reduce emissions," he said.

The EPA then asked Republic Steel to apply that same protocol to the community monitors, and the company refused, Hodanbosi said. Negotiations between the Ohio Attorney General's office and the company followed and led to the Aug. 30 consent order amendment.

The community monitors have the same protections as the fenceline monitor but different conditions for when leaded steal must be stopped. Instead of a suspension triggered by a single day record of 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter, the limit is a monthly average of 0.24 micrograms per cubic meter. Operations could not resume until the next set of data, which is analyzed every two weeks, shows compliance with the NAAQS. (Information has been corrected to fix an error. See correction at end of story. 3 p.m. Sept. 22)

If either monitoring site records a monthly average of 0.45 micrograms of lead per cubic meter, Republic Steel must stop leaded steel production and "take corrective action before they can resume operations," Hodanbosi said.

U.S. EPA designation

The U.S. EPA took its own, separate action against Republic Steel for the first time in November 2021 by issuing a notice of violation for excessive lead emissions. The U.S. Department of Justice is responsible for enforcement, so several agencies now are working with Republic Steel to resolve issues.

The U.S. EPA also plans to designate Republic Steel and the surrounding area as "not attaining the air quality standards for lead" based on air data from 2018 to 2020 and 2019 to 2021, Hodanbosi said. The proposed nonattainment area encompasses the area south of state Route 153, east of state Route 43, north of Tuscarawas Street E and west of Broadway Avenue NE.

Such a designation would require the Ohio EPA to develop a state implementation plan, which involves projecting the concentration of lead from each source and establishing specific limits. It also would ensure air quality monitors continue to measure lead emissions.

"Once this is in place, Canton is not going to be able to turn off the monitors for at least three years," Hodanbosi said.

Civil lawsuit effort

Before and after the meeting, Canton resident William Watkins distributed informational forms to people interested in joining a potential civil lawsuit.

"This really should've happened a couple years ago," he said.

Watkins thought his homeowner association would file a civil lawsuit but, aware that there are time limits for such actions, he took the initiative to contact Stacie Roth, an attorney with Schulman, Roth & Associates Co. He said about 20 people have shown interest so far, and he encouraged anyone who's experienced property damage, harm to their health or a decrease in property value to contact them.

"We need everybody in the community," Watkins said.

Roth said they are gathering as much information as they can and determining who could be witnesses. There's no expected date for when the lawsuit might be filed.

"We're at the very early stages here," Roth said.

Next steps for Canton's Republic Steel plant

  • Officials said negotiations to correct remaining issues at the plant continue and they expect to reach a resolution soon in the state v. Republic Steel court case.

  • Canton City Public Health's Air Pollution Control Division will continue to monitor the air quality and Republic Steel's compliance with various rules.

  • The Ohio Department of Health is conducting a community concerns survey as part of a public health consultation, which is expected to be finalized between February and April of next year.

Reach Kelly at 330-580-8323 or kelly.byer@cantonrep.comOn Twitter: @kbyerREP

CORRECTION: Leaded steel production must be halted if community monitors record a monthly average of 0.24 micrograms of lead per cubic meter. Operations could not resume until the next set of data shows compliance with the NAAQS. The specifications were incorrect when this story was first published at 12:56 p.m. Wednesday.

This article originally appeared on The Repository: State, Canton officials talk latest actions related to Republic Steel