Former Weirton Steel Site Will Soon be Used to Make Batteries

Weirton Steel, once the fifth largest steel producer in the country, was completely empty until recently. It was demolished on March 9, 2019, when two dozen explosives were set off within the building. It has been empty since it closed 20 years ago, but there is hope for the site and the people of Weirton. A battery company known as Form Energy is building its main manufacturing plant at the site of Weirton Steel, which should help create 750 middle-class jobs and should infuse the town with $760 million. This will be the largest monetary infusion in Weirton in decades and the second largest investment in West Virginia in the past year.

Contractors will start construction on the building in the next few weeks. The landscape of the area will be completely changed by the end of the year. There are still workers in the town of Weirton, even though many laborers left once Weirton Steel closed its doors. The company is planning to start manufacturing next year and is currently filling positions. There are around 700 positions to be filled at the plant. Form Energy is promising competitive wages and states the average salary will be $63,000. This number is near the median annual income of the United States.

Form Energy is actually already in the region. It has a small manufacturing facility in Eighty-Four, PA. It tests the technology that powers its batteries to ensure effectiveness before it mass produces and sells its products. The technology is very new and revolutionary for electricity generating companies. The product is an iron air battery, which can store days of energy. The technology is helpful because it can be used to strengthen the energy grid and uses abundant materials like iron, air, and water instead of what batteries use today which includes rare elements like lithium and cobalt. The technology behind the batteries was developed in Pittsburgh in the 1970s. It was not pursued because it was not efficient enough for automotive applications, the main focus at the time.

Ever since the local economy in Weirton folded in the 1970s, the job market has been languishing. The disappearance of the steel industry from the area lead to 10,000 residents leaving and 15,000 steel workers losing their jobs. Generations of families had to move, leaving for job opportunities in other areas. This happened in other Rust Belt cities like Pittsburgh and Detroit. People still remember the decline of Weirton and recall people leaving the city due to family members losing their jobs.

It was a hard process to get Form Energy to settle on Weirton for manufacturing. It looked at 87 sites around the country, some of them in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia. West Virginia is fronting $290 million to build the plant as long as Form Energy puts in $350 million of its own money and creates 750 jobs with an average salary of $63,000 or more with full benefits including healthcare and retirement. The energy company is also paying rent to the state for at least the first six years. The state’s budget surplus helped with the funding.

The state could not find any concerns about the company’s safety and environmental record. A newspaper found that Form Energy does not have a completely clean record though. OSHA gave it two citations for a “serious” safety code violation and a minor health code violation. There was an explosion in an oven at one of Form Energy’s factories, so OSHA noted that the company failed to create an environment that was “free from recognized hazards that were causing or likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.” It also failed to give proper respiratory protection to employees. It was fined for a total of $12,000. Company officials are contesting the citations and certified to OSHA that the safety issues were abated but did not give any documentation proving this was the case. It also declined to answer questions about paying the fines.

The plant will only take up a small fraction of the former Weirton Steel site. It is using 55 of Weirton Steel’s 1,300 acres. More than 250,000 tons of iron will be brought into the town every year due to the plant.

Were you exposed to asbestos at Weirton Steel or another steel mill? Asbestos causes cancers including mesothelioma, lung cancer, and colorectal cancer. Contact us today to see if you could be entitled to compensation by calling 412-471-3980 or by filling out our contact form. A member of our team will get back to you to review your options.

Neena Hagen, “‘A sense of hope’: Mass.-based company to build $760 million battery plant on the ashes of Weirton Steel” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (May 5, 2023). [Link]

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