2008-08-21 / Front Page

Residents, steel mill seek cleaner emissions

Gerdau Ameristeel makes improvements to reduce dust, noise

SAYREVILLE — Tim Eppinger's car on Horseshoe Road is covered in dust.

There is also dust on his house and in his neighbor's pool. Black dust that eats away at paint and has the ability to attract magnets.

Eppinger and his neighbors contend that the black dust comes from Gerdau Ameristeel. In June, the steel plant began a $5.5 million program to reduce the company's output of particulates in the air, as well as to reduce its noise emissions.

As part of this program, Gerdau has enclosed its melt shop and the outdoor area where the black dust, or slag, is cooled. Also, the system that captures and removes the melt shop's exhaust fumes and sends them to the baghouse is being upgraded.

In addition, according to a press release, the mill is installing a wheel-washing system to reduce dust from truck operation, has expanded its watering program to control dust, and is applying dust suppressant more frequently and to more unpaved areas of the property.

Finally, there is also processed slag stored at the site before it is sold as construction material. Now that a buyer has been found, the company believes the slag will be gone by early next year.

"I know it's taking time to install all of the improvements needed to reduce the noise and dust from our operations," Gerdau Vice President and General Manager Mark Quiring said in the release. "We all want these improvements to be implemented as quickly as possible, which is why the company is fast-tracking the more costly capital construction projects, like the new building that will enclose the slag cooling operation."

A 50-foot screen was also constructed to try to stop the slag from harming the neighbors.

So, is any of this working?

"We think so," said Steven Ross, GerdauAmeristeel spokesman. "The answer to that will come in air monitoring results."

Ross said that after seeing preliminary results of air monitoring systems both on the mill and on nearby Modzelewski Terrace, there was somewhat of a reduction in particulate matter that was measured.

Eppinger said the new watering system seems to have improved the situation, although the black dust still covered his car.

"It seems to have corrected a little bit of the problem," Eppinger said, although he specified that the problem has not gone away for 16 months.

He said there is still a great deal of particulates in the air.

"My neighbors can get the black matter out of their pools with a magnet," Eppinger said. "There's something very wrong."

Eppinger's table on his deck was covered in the dust, as well as his barbeque grill. He is concerned about the health aspects of the situation, believing there may be iron in this black dust, since it attracts metal. Eppinger also says the material is gray when it is dry, but turns black when it gets wet. This sometimes leaves black stains on the houses in the area.

Pat Walsh of the Sayreville Environmental Commission said his first concern was the noise, but then it developed into a concern for health as well. He said that Gerdau has been moving slowly, but that it is making changes for the better. One of the air-monitoring systems was installed at his home, which is near Gerdau Ameristeel. The plant has also made other efforts to rectify the situation.

"They power-washed all the homes in the neighborhood," Walsh said. "But the dust came back. They reduced the size of the slag piles, but the processed slag is still way too big. It needs to be reduced further. They did remove 200,000 pounds of slag in the back of their building. So, they've been working with us."

He talked about the dust and its detriment to paint.

"It removes the paint," Walsh said. "You can feel the granules in the siding, and eventually the paint just goes away."

Walsh said he has to stain the deck every year, even though he gets paint that supposedly should last five years.

The Edison Wetlands Association has tried to help with the situation. The watchdog group hired Chapin Engineering to test a sample of dust that was collected by a resident of Wilbur Terrace. It was found that the dust is an iron complex with varying concentrations of hazardous air pollutants arsenic, chromium, lead, mercury and nickel, according to the group.

Chapin Engineering, in its report, also discovered that Gerdau Ameristeel had various state DEP violations over the past few years, which included exceeding the yearly allowable mercury emissions in 2005.

"This DEP record indicates air pollution control equipment operated by Gerdau Ameristeel was not satisfactorily controlling plant emissions on a consistent basis for an extended period," according to the Chapin Engineering report.

Melanie Worob, program coordinator for Edison Wetlands Association, said that she held a public meeting to update the public and urge Gerdau to make changes.

"Pat Walsh and certain other members of the Environmental Commission were openly hostile to our organization and praised Ameristeel profusely," Worob said.

Walsh said he did not wish to comment on the situation.

Gerdau Ameristeel is the largest recycler in New Jersey and the second largest in North America. The plant receives shipments of scrap material, which it melts down for recycling. It is then used for construction projects, including highways, bridges and buildings.

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