Republic Steel, a subsidiary of Mexican steel giant Grupo Simec, will install pollution controls at its Canton, Ohio facility to reduce airborne lead emissions as part of a consent decree with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Dept. of Justice announced on Dec. 2. 

EPA and the Justice Dept. allege that lead emissions from the facility have exceeded the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for lead, which is 0.15 micrograms per cu meter of air. They also allege that Republic Steel has failed to test and monitor emissions during degassing operations in its steel manufacturing process. The settlement terms are included in a proposed consent decree filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio.

In a complaint filed with the court simultaneously with the consent decree, the federal government alleges that Republic Steel is operating in violation of its Clean Air permit and has exceeded the permitted levels of 0.09 lb of lead per hour while using a Flexcast Vacuum degasser at least since October 2020. 

The pollution controls at the firm’s vacuum tank degasser and associated cooling tower will reduce lead emissions by more than 1,000 lb a year, according to EPA. 

One of the largest suppliers of special quality steel bar in the U.S., Republic Steel agreed to the terms of the settlement but denied any liability. The firm, which could not be reached for comment, will also pay a civil penalty of $990,000. 

“Even relatively low levels of lead exposure can cause harm to a child’s cognitive development,” said Acting Assistant Administrator Larry Starfield of the EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance in a statement. “This settlement will help protect local communities, and particularly children, by lowering airborne lead levels.”

Exposure to lead pollution can affect almost every organ and system in the human body. It is especially harmful to young children, as they are most susceptible to some adverse effects of lead. This is of significance here, as there is a residential community with three schools within a one-mile radius of the Republic Steel facility. Additionally, this is an area with environmental justice concerns, EPA says.

The settlement is subject to a public comment period that will end on Jan. 13, 2023, and final court approval.