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Corus No 5 furnace was causing pollution before blast; STEEL: Company faced pounds 50m bill.

Byline: ROBIN TURNER

THE Corus furnace which exploded this month, killing three men and injuring 12, was leaking tonnes of dangerous chemicals, a report has shown.

And the steel giant was facing a pounds 50m bill to fit the ill-fated No 5 blast furnace at its Port Talbot plant with a fume-abatement system to bring it in line with European directives and prevent 710 tonnes of iron-oxide fumes being dispersed into the atmosphere each year. The fumes contain PM10s, tiny particles of dust linked to the increased incidence of asthma in children.

Although there is no question of the emissions being in any way connected with the explosion, Corus and the furnace have been subject to increasing scrutiny in recent months concerning their record on pollution.

Last month the Ends (Environmental Data Services) Report, a monthly journal for environment professionals, accused Corus of ducking cleanup costs necessary because of tough new guidelines on waste emissions.

Under the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control procedures agreed by the EU, companies have to apply for operating permits and must cut emissions of dust and dioxins drastically, often at great expense.

The Ends Report said that Corus, which was "the biggest player in the industry with three integrated steelworks as well as two electric-arc furnaces, has approached applying for a permit like a tourist haggling in a Turkish rug market."

Environment Agency steel expert Stuart Richmond said, "Companies have their own agendas and do not want to spend money".

In 1994 the steel plant's No 4 blast furnace was fitted with a fume-abatement system costing about pounds 50m.

Corus spokesman Mike Hitchcock denied yesterday that the leakage at No 5 or the high cost of preventing it had any connection with the November 8 explosion.

"The escape of waste from the furnace is not linked to its operations, " he said. "They are different systems."

Mr Hitchcock said a fume-abatement system similar to the one fitted to the No 4 furnace was not fitted to No 5 because it could be put in place only during relining when the furnace was shut down.

"These things cannot be just bolted on, " he said.

Corus officials revealed yesterday that a technical review of No 5 was carried out just weeks before the explosion and it was decided that relining was not needed until 2005.

Mr Hitchcock said, "This decision was based purely on the good condition of the furnace walls and hearth. It had nothing to do with the high cost of any dust-abatement system.

"Times between blast-furnace relines have got longer and longer due to new techniques and new knowledge. The principle factor in deciding on a 2005 reline was the technical condition of the furnace."

South Wales West Plaid Cymru AM Janet Davies, who raised concerns about maintenance at the plant with First Minister Rhodri Morgan 18 months ago, said, "I knew there was a problem with fumes from the plant when I was campaigning in 1999."

Neath and Port Talbot County Borough Council is monitoring air quality in communities around the plant such as Margam and Taibach and has concluded that 70pc of the insoluble PM10s in the area have been contributed by the steelworks.

Mr Hitchcock said yesterday that before the explosion Corus had been looking at interim measures to cut down emissions from No 5 before fitting a full abatement system.

"We were conscious of the issue, " he said.

He said it was likely that a full abatement system would be incorporated in a rebuilt No 5 furnace.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 23, 2001
Words:586
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