Processors want PennDOT to change restrictions on use of slag for roads
By John D. Oravecz
Published: Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, 11:56 p.m.
Millions of tons of slag — a steelmaking byproduct — are available cheaply and safely for road and construction projects nationwide, but in Western Pennsylvania use of the material is limited, putting state officials at odds with producers.
Slag processors and even U.S. Steel Corp. are unhappy with a 5-year-old PennDOT directive that imposed strict limits on the amount of water that slag used for road construction here can absorb. Companies say the directive has reduced sales by up to 30 percent and caused layoffs.
PennDOT began limiting the use of slag in three districts in Western Pennsylvania because of problems in 2009 on Interstates 70 and 79 in Washington County that the state says required $13 million in repairs.
“PennDOT has and continues to work with the Steel Alliance and slag manufacturers ... but we must take steps to ensure the success of road projects,” said Rich Kirkpatrick, an agency spokesman in Harrisburg.
The slag used in road construction projects that had to be repaired absorbed too much water, causing pavement to settle as much as 4 inches, Kirkpatrick said. The road surface cracked, joints failed, and congealed slag blocked drainage outlets.
The National Slag Association, which represents 200 slag-related companies, and the Pennsylvania Steel Alliance say the state never proved that slag caused the problems. Their efforts to get PennDOT to modify the restrictions have “been a difficult conversation,” said Slag Association spokesman Rich Lehman.
The issue has gotten the attention of state lawmakers. The House last week approved a bill urging PennDOT to reconsider and to set up rules to fairly evaluate the use of slag and other materials, mainly limestone. Rep. Eli Evankovich, R-Murrysville, a former U.S. Steel employee, sponsored the legislation.
“I'm not trying to force PennDOT to use slag, just that they can't exclude it,” Evankovich said. “They cannot say that a contractor can't use slag.”
His bill passed in a 182-13 vote. A Senate version, sponsored by Sen. Kim Ward, R-Hempfield, is pending before the Transportation Committee.
PennDOT's analysis concluded that slag broke up and congealed, allowing water to pond, exacerbating the freeze-thaw cycle.
“With the water trapped underneath, it's like bending a spoon back and forth until it breaks,” Kirkpatrick said.
Evankovich said the agency should establish a more uniform standard for when slag can or cannot be used, publish it as policy and include it in its highway construction manual.
“Slag has been used for 100 years to create the base for roads. It is abundant in Pennsylvania and environmentally sound and saves money” compared with alternatives, Evankovich said.
Chris Masciantonio, general manager of government affairs at U.S. Steel, said the company's Mon Valley blast furnaces produce about 700,000 tons of slag each year, and the alternative to its use in construction is putting it in a landfill.
“Our argument is that slag is a preferred material because it's cheaper, and from an environmental approach it's made sense for a long time,” Masciantonio said. “I'm confident we'll resolve this.”
Spokesmen for two Western Pennsylvania companies that supply limestone, sand and gravel — Allegheny Mineral Corp. in Kittanning and Amerikohl Mining Inc. in Stahlstown — said they do not oppose the bill if it doesn't circumvent PennDOT's testing process and make an unfair advantage for a producer.
PennDOT's directive for slag applies only in Districts 9, 11 and 12, which cover most of Western Pennsylvania. The directive initially was part of a March 2008 bid award. It is not an “outright ban” but imposes a 3.5 percent moisture absorption limit — essentially the amount of water slag or limestone contains after its surface has been dried, Kirkpatrick said.
Slag and other aggregates are used in road construction as a sub base, upon which concrete is applied to make the road surface. Slag can be used to fill embankments, mixed with asphalt for some surface treatments, and mixed with sand in anti-skid materials.
Another major use is track ballast for the railroads.
About 25 million tons of slag is produced per year in blast furnaces, basic oxygen furnaces and electric arc furnaces in more than 20 states, Lehman said.
PennDOT approved 13 suppliers of slag and tests stockpiles, which can be as large as 90,000 tons. The agency might test material at job sites.
John D. Oravecz is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at 412-320-7882 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Minorities crucial to filling Marcellus shale gas drilling jobs
- Regular or Roth? Pick either
- Municipal bonds do another about-face
- Diaper makers do due diligence
- Harsh winter sets back Western Pa. maple harvest
- CVS suit could be test case
- Achieving proper credit balance
- Prepaid cards start to elbow aside bank accounts
- ‘Boomerang’ buyers get another chance at homeownership
- Employers nationwide added 175K jobs despite harsh weather
- Alpha Natural Resources to pay record $227.5M in water pollution settlement