Author Topic: The steel mill -- a local history Part 6  (Read 612 times)

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Tom Rubillo

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The steel mill -- a local history Part 6
« on: March 26, 2022, 09:34:58 PM »
                                                                                                     There is not such thing as a free lunch

     In fairness, the economic benefits of the steel mill are one thing.  The costs it has imposed on the community are quite another.  During its entire existence it has "externalized" the heavy toll it has taken on the local environment.  Chronic problems it has generated have included flooding in what has been called the "city hall drainage basin,", a substantial reduction in air quality, the contamination of Sampit River with traces of heavy metals and other pollutants, and helping foster the impression of people passing through that Georgetown's is just another "dirty little mill town."

                                                                                                                "Externalizing costs"

     If I go to a fast food outlet and take out a meal, once finished I can either (1) put the accumulated packaging, cups, paper bags and other trash in container or (2) throw it all out of the window.  If I do the latter, I save myself the brother of proper disposal of waste but, instead, "externalize" the cost to other.  This latter practice of "externalization of costs" is what many industries do with the various kinds of waste they generate.  They spare themselves the cost of cleaning up the messes they make, dumping things like air pollution and water pollution on everyone else.  These savings increase their bottom line, making them look more profitable than they really are.

     When it comes to the steel mill, it has not proven to be the neat and clean good neighbor that Willy Korf promises the city fathers and mothers as he wined and dined them on their European river cruise.  Truth is that it has been a very dirty business.  Examples include:

     From the day the mill opened until the day it closed a few years ago, has produced an enormous amount of very visible air pollution.   Clouds of rust colored dust were often seen hovering over the mill, particularly at night when illuminated by street and factory lights.  The giant vacuum cleaner that sits atop the melt show that is connected to the "bag house" is supposed to suck up and properly dispose of the dust that billows out of the mill's electric arc furnaces.  it is about as effective in clearing the air as a cheap model from Wal-Mart, allowing a great deal of that dust to escape into the surrounding environment.

     Electric arc furnace dust is a toxic substance.  Its very tiny particles penetrate deeply into the lungs of anyone who breathes it.  Containing, as it does, traces of heavy metals like cadmium, chrome and lead, it accumulates in the smallest sacs within the lungs, just like asbestos.  Chronic lung problems like asthma, obstructive pulmonary disease and even cancers can result.  Its adverse effects can be seen quite easily and directly by looking at Spanish moss.  It feeds on microbes in the air and absorbs rain water.  It only grows (or hangs from trees) where the air and rain water are relative clean.  Until very recent years since the caldrons in the mill's met shops have been idle, there was absolutely no Spanish moss hanging from trees anywhere with a half mile radius or more of the steel mill.  It has only reemerged closer in recent months and years.

     Trees and other plant life around the mill suffered greatly too.  Mill dust covered the leaves, making it much harder for trees and plants to breathe and stifled their growth.  The prime example of the adverse effects of this dust is the otherwise ancient and stately live oak tree on the border between Parson's Auto Repair and the old car wash on South Fraser Street directly across from the melt shop.  It was almost dead, but, God bless it, has been slowly coming back to life since the mill's furnace was shut down.
     This sticky and unsightly dust clung to all the buildings surrounding the mill, including the now demolished city hall.  It is what made everything around the mill look so grimy.  It clung to trees, roofs, street signs and everything else, eroding or eating into everything to which it adhered.  Rain has steadily been washing away much of this toxic dust, but remnants remain.  The reader need only run his or her hand over any otherwise smooth surface near the mill to feel residual grit.

       Complaints about this accumulating electric arc furnace dust were filed with South Carolina's Department of Health a Environmental Control a number of years ago.  People complained about it settling on the roofs and siding of their homes, damaging both and diminishing their value.  A "nuisance" lawsuit was filed, joined by residents who lived as far away as King Street and Highmarket Streets.  (It was dismissed when Georgetown Steel filed for bankruptcy.)

      DHEC came to town and has air quality monitors installed at various locations in the city.  A government employee collected the data but concluded that DHEC could not determine the source of the  rust colored "fugitive dust" that had fallen in an almost perfect circle around the steel mill.  As a result, DHEC took no action to enforce the "air quality permit" forbidding release of toxic waste -- of "externalizing" its costs onto its neighbors and the community at large.  This chronic and dangerous air pollution is one "cost" to be subtracted from the "economic benefits" detailed in a prior part of this history.   It is not the only one.