BALTIMORE, OCT. 4 -- Maryland authorities filed a $1.07 million lawsuit against Bethlehem Steel Corp. today, claiming it missed deadlines to build a major new pollution-control system and continues to pollute the air despite agreements to stop.
It is the largest penalty ever sought by state environmental officials.
The state Department of the Environment filed the suit in Baltimore County Circuit Court, citing the steelmaker for 107 alleged emissions of pollutants, including benzene and other carcinogens, on various dates since Oct. 1, 1989, at its Sparrows Point plant, southeast of Baltimore.
Bethlehem Steel spokesman Ted Baldwin declined to comment on the suit, saying company officials have not had a chance to study it.
Despite $470,000 in penalties for hundreds of individual emissions since a July 1988 cleanup agreement with the state, Bethlehem Steel's coke-making ovens are still releasing harmful gases and solid particles, said Secretary of the Environment Martin W. Walsh Jr.
"To our disappointment, these violations have continued," Walsh said.
To increase pressure on Bethlehem Steel, the state went to court. Up to now, the Department of the Environment has been able to assess a maximum penalty of $1,000 per violation by its administrative power. By going to court, a judge can impose up to $10,000 a violation.
The lawsuit focuses on an agreement under which Bethlehem Steel was required to complete construction last May of a special system for reducing emissions during the conversion of coal to coke for steelmaking.
The company missed the May deadline as well as a Sept. 1 deadline for testing and evaluating the new system, the lawsuit said.
The Department of the Environment, by going to court, is making "sure that future compliance dates are not ignored," Walsh said.
At its sprawling Sparrows Point plant, Bethlehem Steel operates 210 coke ovens. Coal is fed into the ovens and baked for 24 hours to remove gases and other elements. The resulting coke is pushed out of the ovens with huge ramrods and placed in blast furnaces where it burns at high temperatures to melt iron ore to make steel.
Baldwin said the company is in the middle of a $92 million environmental improvement program at Sparrows Point. In addition to the new system for reducing emissions, he said, the cleanup includes new doors and inside surfaces for the coke ovens to prevent leaking and a new type of coal gas cleaning and processing facility.