Burns Harbor steel mill to pay $3 million for cyanide and ammonia spill in 2019
The company, which owns a steel mill in northwest Indiana, has agreed to pay $3 million and upgrade the facility to prevent future unauthorized releases of cyanide and ammonia.
Cleveland-Cliffs Inc., owner of the Cleveland-Cliffs Burns Harbor facility, signed a consent agreement to resolve allegations that the company violated the Clean Water Act and other federal and state laws when the facility released excessive levels of cyanide and ammonia into the Petit Calumet River in August 2019. These spills led to the death of thousands of fish and the closure of public beaches on Lake Michigan.
The company was previously owned by Indo-Luxembourg company ArcelorMittal SA, which admitted responsibility for the discharge, saying it was the result of a failure in a blast furnace water recirculation system.
The consent decree requires Cleveland-Cliffs to upgrade the facility, including the installation of cyanide and ammonia treatment systems and an ammonia removal system; submit an ammonia investigation report to IDEM and the US Environmental Protection Agency; and undertake other improvements to facilities and reporting.
The company will also have to pay the United States and the State of Indiana $1.5 million each and transfer 127.33 acres of land abutting Indiana Dunes National Park to a land trust organization for permanent protection. conservation.
“Today’s settlement with Cleveland-Cliffs appropriately penalizes the company for its material violations and requires significant actions by the company to prevent future pollution,” Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim said. for the Environment and Natural Resources Division of the Department of Justice. “The cyanide and ammonia reductions will result in a cleaner Lake Michigan, and the public will be kept informed of potential future spills.”
The consent decree is the result of a lawsuit filed by the Environmental Law and Policy Center and the Hoosier Environmental Council after the 2019 incident.
The organizations tracked several years of violations, including exceeding pollutants the plant was allowed to discharge into nearby waterways.
They sued the company after the spill, saying it was necessary to do so because state and federal agencies failed to act even after a long string of repeated water quality violations.
Court documents went on to detail the release of cyanide and ammonia beyond allowable limits as early as 2014, including events the company did not immediately report to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. , as required by law.
“This consent decree demonstrates our ability to hold polluting companies accountable for violating environmental laws and permitting requirements,” said Howard Learner, executive director of ELPC. “We warn industrial operators that the waters of northwest Indiana cannot be polluted without consequence.”
“We are encouraged by this consent decree, and hope that it will not only protect the extraordinary ecological treasure that is Lake Michigan from another toxic industrial spill, but will elevate environmental protection in the Northeast. western Indiana, which has several communities that have borne the particular burden of environmental injustice for far too long,” said Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council.
The Burns Harbor plant and other US facilities owned by ArcelorMittal were acquired by Cleveland-Cliffs in October 2020, making it the largest steel producer in North America.
IDEM inspectors continued to find license and self-policing violations in the last days of ArcelorMittal ownership.
Cleveland-Cliffs is now responsible for correcting violations at the facility.
In December 2021, IDEM imposed a civil penalty of $100,800 on the company for pollutant emissions violations at the facility in 2018 and 2019,
The company is also responsible for complying with the terms of previous agreements regulating hazardous air pollutants and (link: https://www.indianaenvironmentalreporter.org/content/posts/20200827-epa-finds-porter-county-steel-mill- meets-federal-sulfur-dioxide-standard/14-1412.pdf text: sulfur dioxide popup: yes0 emissions.