If all goes as planned, sometime late this year, something should be missing from Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s steel plant at Sparrows Point.
The sour, dusty smell of hot coal.
Four years after the nation's second-largest steelmaker settled a large air pollution fine by agreeing to clean up its coke ovens, construction of the cleanup devices is nearing completion.
Environmental officials and many neighbors had complained for years that the ovens, which bake coal at 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for 24 hours to turn it into a hard, pure fuel called coke, were outdated and environmentally deficient.
But once the $92 million cleanup project is completed, the Sparrows Plant will have one-of-a-kind devices that may become anti-pollution models for the nation's 30 other coke ovens, state environmental officials say.
The three oven batteries, which look like a stack of oversized pizza ovens placed on their side, will have:
* A $45 million gas-cleaning and recovery system, designed to handle the 74 million cubic feet of burnable gas emitted by the cooking coke every day. The U.S. Department of Energy has awarded the steelmaker a $15 million grant for its testing of the new coke oven gas cleaning system.
* Two hundred sixty new oven doors on 130 old ovens. The company is spending $8 million on the 19-inch-wide, 13 1/2 -foot-high doors that, unlike the old metal doors, won't warp from the heat of the oven and let smoke escape.
* A one-of-a-kind, coke-cooling box patented by the Brimfield, Ill.-based Kress Corp. This $16 million system will replace the current system of transporting the hot, smoking coke in half-open rail cars.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has offered Bethlehem a $5 million grant for testing of the Kress coke cooling system.
Bethlehem officials say that, by 1993, the three programs combined should cut the coke ovens' air pollution emissions -- currently more than 25,000 pounds per day -- by 56 percent.
For example, the Maryland Department of the Environment figures that open-air cooling of the hot coke spews more than 8,300 pounds of dust into Maryland's air every day. But if the Kress airtight cooling system works, and Bethlehem proceeds with plans to puts the new machines on two of three existing coke ovens, the coke ovens will emit about 3,900 pounds of dust into the air.