Imaging a Shattering Earth: Contemporary Photography and the Environmental Debate
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Bethlehem, Lackawanna, New York

In 1922, Bethlehem Steel Corporation opened its Lackawanna site in New York State. Throughout the years, environmental concerns have been raised about this site. In 1995, Environmental Advocates, the Sierra Club, and the New York Public Interest Research Group identified the site as one of the top ten air polluters in all of New York. Numerous harmful chemicals were found in the emissions, including sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, which are both related to the development of respiratory illness, as well as aggravation of cardiovascular conditions.

Furthermore, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identified the Slag Fill Area (SFA), which is used for waste disposal at Lackawanna, as the area of greatest concern. Investigations of the SFA revealed pollution resulting from liquid by-products of steel and iron-making, sludge from water treatment, as well as oil and coal debris. Moreover, organic by-products from coking operations have led to contamination of groundwater.

Although most of the steel-making capabilities at the Lackawanna site were closed in the 1970s due to $1.5 billion in losses for Bethlehem, coking operations have continued, prolonging environmental concerns. To address this matter, the EPA issued an Administrative Order of Consent in August 1990, which required the company to take responsibility for its pollution. According to this order, Bethlehem was obligated to report on the extent of its hazardous waste and to alleviate any environmental problems that arise.

The discontinued portions of the Bethlehem Lackawanna site, currently owned by International Steel Group, have been slated for redevelopment. Despite concerns over the land being contaminated with metals and carcinogens, abandoned buildings in the area are being demolished, and the land redeveloped for public use. This became permissible once a federal law was passed by the Bush administration in 2002, which essentially exonerated new investors from the previous owners’ pollution. This redevelopment project is expected to last about a decade and cost $64 million.

Selected Bibliography

Anderson, Dale. “Steel Plant Site to Be Cleaned, Developed; Lakefront Property Will Have Public Space.” The Buffalo News, 13 April 2005, A1.

“Bethlehem Steel Company in Lackawanna, NY.” Buffalo Free-Net Architecture and History, 2002, Weblink.

Bridger, Chet. “Brownfields Looking Attractive; Investors Buying Contaminated Land Not Liable for Prior Owner’s Pollution.” The Buffalo News, 19 January 2002, E1.

Fairbanks, Phil, and Janice L. Habuda. “New Activity on an Old Site; Former Bethlehem Steel Land to Undergo Cleanup and Development by a Steel Company that Has Done This Type of Reclamation Project Before.” The Buffalo News, Final Edition, 14 April 2005, A1.

“International Steel Group.” Environmental Protection Agency, February 2004. Weblink.

Vogel, Mike. “Four Local Plants among State’s 10 Worst Air Polluters.” The Buffalo News, 30 May 1997, A9.

Bethlehem, Lackawanna, New York Pictures in the Gallery