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50 years of Earth Day: Alabama’s iron and steel manufacturing contributes to our environment

I was in fifth grade on the first Earth Day. There was an abandoned earth mover in the woods near my elementary school, and Mrs. Fields’ social studies class painted it with bright colors to improve our visual environment. It was 1970, Richard Nixon was president, and later that year would establish the Environmental Protection Agency.

Little did I know then it should have been our science class, there are economics within environmentalism, and I would have a career promoting stewardship of the earth.

Clean water is the greatest advancement in public health in the history of the world. In the span of human history, it was not too long ago that foul water was a much greater threat than today’s virus. Did you know Wilbur Wright of Wright Brothers fame died of typhoid fever in 1912, 36 years before his brother’s passing? Frankly, it was not uncommon.

Into that environment, the municipal water industry developed, providing clean water and sanitary sewers. Iron pipe was the predominant material then and remains the most resilient and robust today. And of special interest on Earth Day, today’s modern ductile iron pipe is made from 100% recycled iron and steel.

Other materials have been developed or used for water pipe, but they have soon been exposed for their shortcomings and retired from service, leaving in their wake innumerable problems and costs. Iron pipe, however, continues to serve faithfully for generations. And even better yet, because of its strength and flow properties, less energy is required to deliver water through iron pipe than plastic PVC pipe. That’s less electricity for pumps, fewer carbon emissions for the atmosphere, and better financial life-cycle returns for public and private utilities using iron pipe.

Not only iron pipe, but all of Alabama’s extensive iron and steel industry uses recycled iron and steel as raw materials, serving to clean up and restore our environment while we build new infrastructure, automobiles, homes, and appliances. Millions of tons of Alabama iron and steel are recycled each year, providing tens of thousands of jobs and promoting positive environmental policy with proven economics.

Iron and steel: safe for you, good for the environment – on Earth Day and every day.

Maury D. Gaston is Chairman of the Alabama Iron and Steel Council, a council of Manufacture Alabama, and a Director and past Chairman of the state of Alabama Engineering Hall of Fame. The AISC operates as an independent industry council of Manufacture Alabama, the state’s only trade association dedicated exclusively to manufacturers and their supplier/vendor partners. AISC member companies include AM/NS Calvert, AMERICAN Cast Iron Pipe Company, CMC Steel, McWane, Inc., Nucor Steel, Outokumpu Stainless USA, SSAB Americas, U.S. Pipe & Foundry, United States Steel, Alabama Power Company, Colburn Construction, Inc., ERP Compliant Coke, OMI-Bisco Refractories, O’Neal Manufacturing Services, Reno Refractories, Southeast Gas, and Southern Alloy Corporation. Gaston is a mechanical engineering graduate of Auburn University and Manager of Marketing for American Cast Iron Pipe in Birmingham.