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AK Steel blast furnace running again

The blast furnace of AK Steel’s Middletown Works has been restarted, Neil Douglas, president of the union representing the mill’s hourly workers, said.

The blast furnace, a key part of the mill and the beginning of the steel-making process, started running again over the weekend, Douglas said. The blast furnace — the part of the mill where fuel, iron ore and limestone are heated and reduced to make hot metal — was taken offline after experiencing a mechanical failure Saturday, June 22.

Repairs “went faster than anybody was really anticipating,” said Douglas, president of International Association of Machinists & Aerospace Workers Local Lodge 1943. The IAM represents about 1,700 hourly employees of Middletown Works.

“They are making iron now,” Douglas said. “We have no one on layoff anymore either.”

During repairs, the Middletown Works plant wasn’t producing new carbon flat-rolled steel.

Other portions of the steel mill continued to run.

About 15 to 16 people had their hours reduced, and other people had moved to other parts of the mill to work.

Douglas hoped operations would be completely back to normal this week.

West Chester Twp.-based AK Steel Holding Corp. estimated in a release June 24 that uninsured losses as a result of the shutdown at the company’s largest steel plant could be between $10 million and $27.5 million.

AK Steel reports financial results for the second quarter on July 23. The company will provide updates at that time, said spokesman Mike Wallner.

AK Steel employs about 2,100 people in full-time positions at Middletown Works, including union and salary employees, and there are more contract workers.

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