Lawsuit filed over plant demolition

Lawsuit filed over plant demolition

Explosive demolition of Weirton Steel Corp. may have caused ‘irreparable harm’ to residents, property owners claim in lawsuit.

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The Herald-Star reports that explosives were improperly used to demolish the Weirton, West Virginia-based Weirton Steel Corp., a basic oxygen steel plant, March 9. A lawsuit filed in Hancock County claims that while explosives were a cheaper option for taking down the structure, they exposed area residents to toxic elements and heavy metals.

The lawsuit says that more than 78 residents and property owners were irreparably harmed by the demolition. Because of the implosion, dense black smoke polluted the air and particulates rained down on the Weir Avenue neighborhood, the Herald-Star reports. The suit also notes that some buildings were damaged from the vibrations the blast caused.

Additionally, the suit suggests the owner of the mill property, Weirton, West Virginia-based Frontier Group, put corporate profits above public safety, alleging the use of explosives was nothing but “a less costly way … to demolish the building, rather than … the safer method of cranes, welders, riggers and cutting torches.”

Filed by attorney Mike Nogay, the suit named New York-based Frontier Industries and its COO Robert Zuchlewski; Ohio-based Mingo Junction Steel Works; Michigan-based SCM Engineered Demolition and Explosives; West Virginia-based Panhandle Cleaning and Restoration; Pennsylvania-based Rocky Rift Consulting; Michigan-based VTC Insurance Group; and the city of Weirton as defendants.

The suit contends “dangerous elements and heavy metals,” including hexavalent chromium, a carcinogen; arsenic; cadmium; lead; and mercury, leached into the soil under the mill. When the blast occurred and the steel structure came down, those elements and heavy metals were released into the air.

Nogay says wind gusts the day of the blast reached speeds up to 33 miles per hour. Given the windy conditions and lack of rain, Nogay says, “they had to anticipate this was going to happen.”

He continues, “This was not their first time demolishing something like this. They know what happens and the dangers associated with it.”

The lawsuit blames Zuchlewski and others for not alerting the public to the risks and dangers of using explosives to demolish the mill. The Herald-Star reports that the suit also cites Panhandle Cleaning, which withdrew its remediation teams two weeks after beginning the cleanup, for negligence during the cleanup efforts.

Panhandle Cleaning filed a lawsuit of its own against Frontier for terminating its services when Panhandle asked for insurance billing information or payment for its services. Panhandle says it is owed $178,526 for its post-blast cleanup services.

“[Affected residents] need the state, federal and local government to step up and help,” Nogay says.

“I’ve asked for monitoring and other assistance, [but] it’s been met with a deaf ear,” he continues. “There are obviously serious health risks, as evidenced by the laboratory results and chemical analysis (of the particulates). Hexavalent chromium, CR6, that’s real dangerous — they’re all dangerous.”

“A lot of it has not settled yet,” Nogay says. “A lot has been washed by the rains … into storm sewers and water supplies—this is a place where continuous casting operations with heavy metals took place for some 60 years. It’s clearly unacceptable.”