Demolition of last Valley blast furnace nears in Warren

By Ed Runyan


Blast Furnace Demolition

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The last blast furnace in the Mahoning Valley is set for demolition.

Among the most-significant events in Mahoning Valley history, the implosion of the Jeannette blast furnace in the Brier Hill Works of Youngstown Sheet & Tube in 1997 ranks high.

It was the last of many blast furnaces in the city’s mighty steelmaking history.

So it’s no wonder that local residents have been wondering and waiting to learn the date when the blast furnace at the former Republic Steel/RG Steel mill south of Warren will come down.

Based on information provided to officials, however, the demolition is more likely to be slow and methodical, unlike the dramatic Jeannette implosion.

Tara Cioffi of the Youngstown City Health Department, environmental health director for the Mahoning County Air Pollution Control Agency, said demolition company MCM Management notified her agency June 22 that the first stage of the RG blast furnace demolition was scheduled to begin Tuesday with the removal of asbestos in pipes.

That work is scheduled to take until July 22, but such dates frequently change, and MCM just has to notify her agency 24 hours in advance of such changes, Cioffi said. Someone from Cioffi’s agency, which is the local Environmental Protection Agency representative for air pollution, will monitor the removal.

The removal of the blast furnace – which turned iron ore into molten iron – will occur between July 25 and Nov. 30, Cioffi said.

“It won’t be like in the past where it all came down at once. There won’t be implosion of the entire structure as a whole,” she said.

“There may be a technique where they will implode some areas, but we haven’t received confirmation yet,” she said, adding that her office has made calls to the demolition company and the owner of the site, BDM Warren Steel Holdings, seeking clarification.

MCM talked about an implosion early on but then discussed two reasons not to do that, Cioffi said.

One is that there are sensors near the blast furnace that MCM doesn’t want to disturb. Another is that there are other structures nearby it also doesn’t want to disturb, Cioffi said. The blast furnace is connected by pipes to the former RG boiler, which provided heated air to the blast furnace while it was in operation.

The boiler is used by the company Arcelor Mittal Warren as part of the coke-making process that is still ongoing just south of the blast furnace, Cioffi said. Coke is one of the elements used in a blast furnace to make steel.

Cioffi said it would appear that when the blast furnace is gone, the demolition of the entire site will be complete.

“As far as I know, this is the final structure to be demolished that they’ve told us about,” she said.

Michael K. Bechtold of BDM Warren Steel Holdings said the first work will involve removal of pipes between the blast furnace and the boiler, removal of asbestos from the pipes, and other preparation and safety work.

When asked whether the blast furnace will come down in an implosion like with the Jeannette, Bechtold said that is up to the demolition company and its subcontractors. BDM’s goal for the site is to redevelop it, Bechtold said, adding it hasn’t been determined whether BDN will sell it.

The Republic Steel/RG Steel blast furnace is not only one of the most-iconic structures on the Warren skyline, but it is also a symbol of the huge impact steel has had on the Warren area. It’s a soot-stained giant that still produced iron for steelmaking as recently as 2012, when RG Steel shut down, idling 1,200 workers.

And its symbolism extends a step beyond the Jeannette blast furnace in that the RG blast furnace is the last one left in the Mahoning Valley. There were dozens here during the Valley’s steelmaking heyday.

“Symbolically and geographically, it is the end of an era,” said Bill Lawson, executive director of the Mahoning Valley Historical Society.

There have been blast furnaces in the Mahoning Valley for 213 years, with the first one – the Hopewell Furnace in Yellow Creek Park in Struthers – being built in 1803. There are still remnants of two – the Hopewell and Mill Creek Furnace in Mill Creek Park, Lawson said.

The blast furnace at Republic/RG was the biggest in the Mahoning Valley, Lawson said. It was also one of the biggest in the world in the 1950s, according to Vindicator files.

BDM Warren Steel Holdings, which bought the mill in bankruptcy, revealed plans in 2013 to demolish everything on the 1,100-acre RG mill site and started the demolition soon thereafter.

The plans called for the work to be finished in 2016, but BDM gave no date for removing the blast furnace. In the past few months, the huge basic-oxygen furnace building came down, leaving behind two huge ladles still visible from Pine Street Southeast. The blast furnace is on the western edge of the mill site, along Main Avenue in Warren Township.

According to Vindicator files, when the blast furnace was in operation, workers using a computerized measuring system combined iron ore, limestone and coke inside the furnace to produce up to 4,000 tons of molten iron ore a day, the first step in the steelmaking process.

A blast furnace is a towerlike structure lined with bricks that uses heated air to cause a chemical change that produces liquid iron.

The mill opened in 1913 as the Trumbull Steel Co. and cost $2 million to build. It became Republic Steel in 1929, then decades later WCI, Severstal Steel and RG Steel.

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