80 Nearby Residents Sue Delaware Steel Recycling Plant

By Jeff Montgomery | August 20, 2010

At least 80 Claymont, Delaware residents have joined a damage and personal-injury lawsuit targeting a long-troubled steel recycling plant there, in a case that claims owners failed for years to control “poisonous clouds” of toxic dust.

The lawsuit surfaced days after Delaware’s Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control announced a wide-ranging consent order aimed at cleaning up the operation after two previous, failed enforcement actions and several years of resident complaints.

State officials last week gave Evraz-Claymont Steel three years to install millions of dollars in emissions control and containment systems. The order also obliged the company to relocate some operations at its Philadelphia Pike plant and to continue toxic and dust monitoring programs, with automatic penalties of up to $200,000 per month for violations or missed targets.

Attorneys for the law firm McCarter and English said in the suit that DNREC’s order and evidence of repeatedly missed deadlines and pollution violations proved the scale of the company’s violations and damage to its neighbors.

“Plaintiffs do not make these allegations idly,” the suit, filed in Superior Court, said. “The plant is a well-documented, chronic, perennial violator of environmental laws and regulations, with a long history of false and misleading reports regarding its environmental contamination.”

The suit refers to years of company negligence and environmental violations, citing damage to property, animals, individuals and businesses. Although no dollar figures were demanded, the suit sought damages and medical monitoring, in addition to costs, attorneys fees and other claims.

Delores Whildin, a Claymont resident who pressed DNREC for years to take action against the steel plant, said that other attorneys also have canvassed the community.

“We’ve had them up here. I kind of hoped that it would fade into the woodwork,” said Whildin, who is not a participant in the lawsuit. “Things are finally starting to move, but the biggest thing is for DNREC to enforce the orders, and I’d hate to see it brought to a standstill because of this.”

Claymont Steel, which has operated under four owners in recent decades, produces specialty plate steel from scrap metal. Neighbors have long accused the company of failing to control releases of metallic dust and heavy metal soot that damaged homes and cars.

In 2005, state officials revealed that the plant’s mercury releases were 10 times higher than company estimates filed with the Environmental Protection Agency, because of unaccounted-for pollutants in scrap fed to the plant’s furnace.

Delaware officials have been aware for months that attorneys were approaching residents in neighborhoods around the plant to discuss potential injury claims. Lawmakers discussed the risk of a lawsuit in February, while asking DNREC officials for details on action against the company during a DNREC budget hearing in Dover.

Attorneys with McCarter & English and officials with Evraz-Claymont Steel could not be reached late Tuesday. The suit also lists Enenstein & Associates, a Santa Monica, Calif., law firm with specialties that include international law and corporate duties, as advisers to those making the claims.

The Delaware plant is a subsidiary of a company based in Russia that ranks as the world’s 13th-largest steel company, with $9 billion in revenues in 2009, the lawsuit pointed out.

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