Posco fights back against emissions accusation

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Posco fights back against emissions accusation

Posco will attend a closed hearing with the South Jeolla provincial government today to discuss allegations that the steelmaker emitted unnecessary levels of air pollutants by illegally releasing gas from a blast chamber.

The company has a steel mill in Gwangyang, South Jeolla. The local government ordered the company to shut down the blast furnace in the steel mill for 10 days on April 24 on allegations that the steelmaker has been emitting air pollutants by unnecessarily overusing bleeder valves that should only be opened in an emergency.

Posco asked the government for a hearing so that it could explain why it was necessary to open up the valves.

Bleeder valves are used to release gas from a blast furnace to stop the pressure building to a dangerous level. Releasing gas from the blast furnace also releases air pollutants, according to industry sources.

Under Korea’s Clean Air Conservation Act, bleeder valves are only allowed to be opened in emergency situations. Posco and the Korea Iron & Steel Association explained that steel mills have to open bleeder valves some six to eight times a year while they conduct blast furnace maintenance for safety reasons.

Consumer groups, however, criticized the steelmaker for polluting the air by regularly opening the bleeder valves without using equipment that could reduce emissions, even when it was not an emergency situation. This led the local government to issue an administrative measure against the steelmaker.

“Opening up valves is a critical process to ensure the safety of the workers and to prevent the blast furnace from exploding,” the steel association said in statement earlier this month as controversy involving steel mills grew.

The result of the hearing could have a huge impact on the local steel industry as the steel mill in Gwangyang is not the only one that has been ordered to shut down its blast furnace due to environmental concerns.

South Chungcheong provincial government ordered a Hyundai Steel mill in Dangjin to shut down for 10 days on May 30 while North Gyeongsang provincial government ordered Posco’s steel mill in Pohang to shut down on May 27.

So far, the local government of South Chungcheong has confirmed its administrative order without holding a separate hearing. This means Hyundai Steel has to shut down its steel mill in Dangjin from July 15. The company has applied for a suspension of the order to the Central Administrative Appeals Commission. The result of the company’s appeal is expected to come out at the end of this month.

North Gyeongsang government has not finalized its position and is likely to hold a hearing with Posco next month.

Steelmakers could file legal suits against local governments if the hearing and talks with the appeals commission do not go well as shutting down their blast furnaces for several days is a huge blow to their businesses.

“If blast furnaces shut down for more than five days, iron molds may harden, causing the blast furnace to crack,” the Korea Iron & Steel Association said in statement. “To put furnaces back to normal operating status could take three to six months.”

The association estimated revenue losses to reach 800 billion won ($674 million) if one blast furnace stops operating for 10 days and takes three months to reach operational status again.

BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]
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