Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant has belched out black smoke for as long as anybody living nearby can remember -- 1,350 tons of soot and dust each year. Documents supplied to the Maryland Department of the Environment show that, in addition, 300 tons of benzene, a carcinogen, and 2,400 tons of sulfur dioxide also come pouring out of the mill's tall stacks each year. That contributes mightily to the air pollution that made Baltimore one of America's nine worst cities for "non-attainment" of Clean Air Act standards. It also exacerbates the acid-rain problem threatening the Chesapeake Bay.
But cleaning up pollution brings its own costs. Five hundred workers, people who have spent their adult lives stoking coke ovens, now face dislocation as Sparrows Point prepares to choke off the smoke. Some of the affected workers will be able to "bump down," pushing less-senior union members out of jobs in other mill areas, a distasteful prospect at best. Others may retire -- the median age for Sparrows Point employees is 49, with many in their 50s and 60s -- reducing the necessity for layoffs at a plant whose personnel have lived through many earlier reductions since the 1970s.
Still, for some, there will be layoffs.