Fact Sheet: Pollution Prevention: Strategies for the Steel Industry

Center For Hazardous Materials Research (CHMR)

The pollution prevention practices described here have been developed specifically for the steel industry and have been implemented by other steel manufacturers.

What Is pollution prevention?

Pollution prevention is the reduction or elimination of discharges or emissions to the environment. This includes all pollution: hazardous and non-hazardous, regulated and unregulated, across all media, and from all sources. Pollution prevention can be accomplished by reducing the generation of wastes at their source (source reduction) or by using, reusing or reclaiming wastes once they are generated (environmentally sound recycling).

Each of the pollution prevention practices described in this fact sheet is an extension of the simple but powerful idea that it makes far more sense to eliminate the generation of waste than to develop complex and costly treatment schemes once it has been generated.

Why practice pollution prevention?

Pollution prevention is good business. While most pollution control strategies cost money, pollution prevention has saved many firms thousands of dollars in treatment and disposal costs alone.

Many companies have already discovered the tremendous benefits of pollution prevention. The 3M Co.'s "Pollution Prevention Pays" Program has eliminated the annual generation of more than 500,000 tons of pollutants. Cumulative savings since the program began in 1975 are estimated at $426 million.

Smaller companies can also benefit. One firm reduced its hazardous waste disposal costs by 74% and decreased raw material costs by 16%.

By reducing or eliminating wastes a firm can:

How do we get started?

A systematic approach will produce better results than piecemeal efforts. An essential first step is a comprehensive waste audit. The waste audit identifies all operations that produce waste, and the areas where waste may be reduced.

To conduct a waste audit, follow these steps:

Will pollution prevention work In the steel Industry?

The steel industry handles more raw material per ton of finished product than any other large-scale industry in the world. The wide variety of steelmaking processes produce many kinds of hazardous and non-hazardous waste. Stringent hazardous waste regulations affecting wastes the steel industry produces in large quantities, particularly electric arc furnace dust and pickle liquor, are providing tremendous incentive for the steel industry to implement pollution prevention practices.

Setting up a pollution prevention program does not require exotic or expensive technologies. Some of the most effective techniques are simple and inexpensive. Others require significant capital expenditures, however many provide a return on that investment.

Improved Operating Procedures

Good operating procedures rely not on changes in technology or materials, but on human adaptability. Small changes in personnel practices, housekeeping, inventory control, waste stream segregation, material handling and scheduling improvements, spill and leak prevention and preventive maintenance can mean big waste reductions. Some examples in the steel industry include:

Materials Substitution

Disposing of hazardous materials has become expensive. It makes sense to substitute less hazardous materials whenever possible. Good material choices can also increase opportunities to recycle. Consider the following substitutions:

Process Modifications & Redesign

Metallurgical engineers have done a good job of designing and modifying process equipment and technology to recover product and unconverted raw materials. They pursued this strategy to the point that the cost of further recovery could not be justified.

Now the costs of end-of-pipe treatment and disposal have made source reduction an equally good investment. Greater reductions are possible when metallurgical engineers trained in pollution prevention incorporate waste reduction into process design projects. Designs that reduce the volume of waste generated can also reduce energy consumption, and maintenance costs. For example:

Treatment Alternatives

Finally, in some cases, alternative treatment methods can reduce the toxicity or volume of certain waste streams which cannot be eliminated. For example:


Recycling is the use, reuse, or reclamation of a waste after it is generated by a particular process. The steel industry recycles extensively by using scrap steel as raw material. By-products created when coal is converted to coke, such as coke oven gas, coal tar, crude or refined light oils, ammonium sulfate, anhydrous ammonia and naphthalene, are also used as raw materials for other industrial processes. Examples of other recycling opportunities include:

This fact sheet should only be considered an introduction to pollution prevention, Since new ideas are always being developed, it cannot include every existing pollution prevention practice. Mention of a specific practice should not be considered an unqualified endorsement, and not every practice is suitable for every facility.

Who's going to do it?

Pollution prevention requires a new attitude about pollution control. Traditional thinking places all the responsibility on a few environmental experts in charge of treatment. The new focus makes pollution prevention everyone's responsibility. Preventing pollution may be a new role for production-oriented managers and workers, but their cooperation is crucial. It will be the workers themselves who must make pollution prevention succeed in the workplace.

Management commitment and employee participation are vital to a successful pollution prevention program. Management can demonstrate its commitment to pollution prevention and encourage employee participation by:

Additional Publications

  1. Hazardous Waste Minimization Manual for Small Quantity Generators, Second Edition, Center for Hazardous Materials Research, 320 William Pitt Way, Pittsburgh, PA 15238, 1989. (Call 800-334-CHMR)

  2. Hazardous Waste Minimization Industrial Overviews, Edited by Harry M. Freeman, JAPCA Reprint Series RS- 14, Air & Waste Management Association, P.O. Box 2861, Pittsburgh, PA 15230,1989. (Call 412-232-3444)

  3. Electric Arc Furnace Dust Disposal, Recycle & Recovery, Center for Metals Production Report No. 85-2, Mellon Institute, 1988.

Further Pollution Prevention Information

Center For Hazardous
Materials Research (CHMR)
320 William Pitt Way
Pittsburgh, PA 15238

James Hemby
Pollution Prevention Program
U.S. EPA Region III
841 Chestnut Building
Philadelphia, PA 19107 (215)597-9800

Greg Harder
Division of Waste Minimization and Planning
PA Department of Environmental Resources
PO Box 2063
Harrisburg, PA 17120

American Iron and Steel Institute
1133 15th Street, N.W., Suite 300
Washington. D.C. 20005

Association of Iron and Steel Engineers
Three Gateway Center
Pittsburgh, PA 15086

Center For Metals Production
Mellon Institute
4400 Fifth Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15213-2683

U.S. Department of the Interior
Bureau of Mines
Materials & Recycling Technology
2401 E Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20241

The Center for Hazardous Materials Research (CHMR) is a non-profit subsidiary of the University of Pittsburgh Trust, and is a non-regulatory organization, Its mission is to assist in developing and implementing practical solutions to the technical, environmental, economic, and health problems associated with hazardous and solid waste, For more information on this and other CHMR publications call (800) 334-CHMR.

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Last Updated: January 9, 1996