Major polluter US Steel is idling plants near Detroit and laying off employees

Dec 20, 2019 at 11:58 am
click to enlarge U.S. Steel's Great Lakes facility. - Shutterstock
U.S. Steel's Great Lakes facility.

A major polluter in southwest Detroit, U.S. Steel Corp., is idling a pair of steel plants along the Detroit River in Ecorse and River Rouge and will issue layoff notices to more than 1,500 employees.

The company announced Thursday it plans to indefinitely shutter its iron and steel plant on Zug Island and close its hot strip mill rolling facility by the end of 2020.

The news comes after President Donald Trump’s administration imposed a 25 percent steel tariff last year, which has caused serious problems for the industry.

“It is unfortunate that our hardworking men and women are again paying the price for Washington's detrimental policies that have led to the market conditions US Steel and so many others have been facing," said state Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, in a statement Thursday. “I have already talked with the director of the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity, which includes the Unemployment Insurance Agency, and will soon be in communication with the United Steelworkers, city officials, and others so that we can ensure working families have access to the necessary programs and support systems they might need. I strongly encourage anyone affected by these layoffs to contact my office to learn more about resources that can help.”

U.S. Steel President and CEO David B. Burritt said the closure was important for the Pittsburgh company's longtime survival.

“We are conscious of the impact this decision will have on our employees, their families, and the local community, and we are announcing it now to provide them with as much time as possible to prepare for this transition,” Burritt said in a statement. “These decisions are never easy, nor are they taken lightly. However, we must responsibly manage our resources while also strengthening our company’s long-term future — a future many stakeholders depend on. We will be taking steps in the weeks and months ahead to assist impacted employees by providing additional education about benefits available through our company, as well as community resources.”

In September, the company announced it was laying off hundreds of employees in Michigan.

U.S. Steel is a major emitter of sulfur dioxide in southwest Detroit, Ecorse, and River Rouge — a toxic landscape of smokestacks, coal piles, and gas flares. The combined sulfur dioxide levels in the area exceed the national standard, posing serious health risks to residents.

Sulfur dioxide is very dangerous and can cause asthma, bronchitis, and emphysema. Short-term exposure can cause difficulty breathing, stomach pain, headaches, nausea, vomiting, fever, and irritation of the nose, throat, and lungs. But for the employees, the closure is a major setback.

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