Air quality results released amid steel facility closure

By Kelly April Tyrrell 12:16am, November 13, 2013 - Updated 2:57pm, November 13, 2013
VIDEO: Environmental Toxicologists Ming Lau and Rick Perkins and Dee Whildin discuss the study's findings.
At a community meeting in Claymont Tuesday night, the latest results of ongoing air quality monitoring studies were released.

WDEL's Kelly April Tyrrell reports.

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Claymont resident Dee Whildin has been concerned about the air quality in her neighborhood for years.

"I know too many people in too many of the local neighborhood surrounding me that have cancer," Whildin said. "And my concern is for the animals ... and they have no choice but to breath it and our children outside have no idea what's in the air that they're breathing."

But the results of the monitoring conducted by Whildin and others and analyzed by the DNREC showed no significant health risks, said Rick Perkins, environmental scientist with the Delaware Division of Public Health.

"What we found looking at the metal concentrations are there's no increased cancer risk or there's no increased non-cancer risk," said Perkins.

Still, Whildin is concerned. She and others among the Claymont Community Coalition began pressing the state to conduct studies about 10 years ago.

"It took us a while to convince the powers that be that we have a serious problem," she said. "But we showed them what we were breathing visually and that made a big difference."

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The facility produces particulates that are dispersed into the air, carrying metal- and other contaminant-laden dust into the surrounding atmosphere. Whildin said it coats the cars in the neighborhood.

While DPH found no elevated health risks, it is concerned about the concentrations of small particles, said Perkins. The levels are slightly higher than national standards.

"It's a very small particle and it can go deep into the lungs," he said. "So the deeper in the lungs the more health concerns you have. The particles they're seeing on the cars are so big they just drop out of the air quick so they don't even make it to your lungs."

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The steel plant is closing in December, Evraz recently announced, due to declines in business.

Whildin hopes the monitoring will continue, since contaminants may not be all due to the facility.

"Right now with the closing of the steel plant I think it's really important that we continuing the monitoring because in case there's another element in there that we're unjustly blaming Claymont Steel for, this will prove a point," says Whildin.

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Chief toxicologist for DPH, Ming Lau, echoed Whildin.

"I think the biggest step now for the Evraz and the community itself is whether or not they're going to continue the testing for the Evraz now that the plant is shut down to see whether or not it's coming from Evraz itself or the surrounding area such as like the high traffic from I-95, 495, and the industrial issues such as the train and so forth," says Lau.

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This study was the third phase of air quality monitoring that began five years ago.

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