Vice President and General Manager Mark Olsen, center, holds a piece of rebar produced at the mill as he gets ready for a photo with furnace operator Sergio Martinez, left, and Assemblyman Marc Steinorth as the Gerdau Steel Mill celebrates its 60th anniversary during a ceremony at the mill in Rancho Cucamonga Wednesday. Credit Photo @ JENNIFER CAPPUCCIO MAHER — STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER
RANCHO CUCAMONGA >> The Gerdau Steel Mill in Rancho Cucamonga, the last full-production steel mill in California, aims to turn a traditionally dirty business into being nearly emission-free. The company on Wednesday celebrated the groundbreaking for an emissions-cleaning building, which also coincided with the plant’s 60th anniversary. It opened in 1957 as the Etiwanda Steel Producers company. “I think she looks pretty good for being 60 years old,” Mark Olsen, vice president and general manager of the Gerdau Steel Mill, said in his opening remarks to guests. “But don’t tell anybody. She’s going to be getting some work done.” The $22 million facility, which is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2018, will be built alongside the mill at 12459 Arrow Route by the SMS Group, whose executives traveled from their base in Italy to attend the ceremony. When completed, Gerdau’s plant will prevent 99.9 percent of emissions, which include lead and chromium, from escaping into the environment. “I think its a huge steppingstone for the industry, and it’s something very vital in America to be able to produce steel, and I’m really glad to be part of it,” Bryan O’Malley, a supervisor at the mill, said after the ceremony. “We learn everyday that you’re always improving your processes and that’s what it’s all about.”
Current filtration at the plant already captures 99.4 percent of the mill’s emissions, officials said.
The new building is called a “bag house,” Olsen said by phone prior to the event. “It’s like a large vacuum cleaner … that sucks all the particulates formed during the melting process into a bag house and through a series of filters.”
The Gerdau mill, which employs about 275 workers, is also the state’s largest metal recycler. The mill annually takes in 440,000 tons of scrap metal for the production of about 400,000 tons of seismic rebar, used for major road and building construction across California. Recent projects include the Devore freeway interchange project, the towering Wilshire Grand building in Los Angeles and Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara.
The mill is also known as the place many police agencies throughout Southern California send weapons they confiscated to be melted.
“We’re always looking for opportunities in construction, so if it made sense, we would like to grow our business,” Olsen said by phone. “This year, we took in 440,000 tons, and next year we hope to take in 500,000 tons.”
Speakers Wednesday morning included California Assemblyman Marc Steinorth, R-Rancho Cucamonga, and San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford, who is also a board member of the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
“I can’t wait to say here in the second (county) district, we have the cleanest, greenest steel mill in the country,” Rutherford said.
Echoing Rutherford, Steinorth said: “I am thrilled that you have the cleanest steel mill in the state of California, soon the entire country and hopefully, the world.”
The ceremony also honored longtime workers, including Jessie Vasquez, a mechanic who recently celebrated his 50th anniversary as a mill employee.
“I’ve seen a lot come and go with different managers and different change-ups,” said Vasquez, who added that he’s never felt the need to leave the company.
Vasquez said he was happy for the last fully operational steel mill in California to “stay home, or everything will be out of here.”