Environmental groups sue steel mill over lake chemical spill

Two environmental groups are suing a steelmaker for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act at its northwestern Indiana facility more than 100 times in the past five years, including an August spill that killed more than 3,000 fish.

Posted: Dec 13, 2019 9:25 AM

PORTAGE, Ind. (AP) — Two environmental groups are suing a steelmaker for allegedly violating the Clean Water Act at its northwestern Indiana facility more than 100 times in the past five years, including an August spill that killed more than 3,000 fish.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and Hoosier Environmental Council filed the lawsuit Wednesday in federal court after previously alerting ArcelorMittal of their plans to sue, The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported. ArcelorMittal's facility in Burns Harbor discharges pollution into the East Arm of the Little Calumet River, which flows directly into Lake Michigan.

The groups allege that the company breached its Clean Water Act permit after releasing impermissible levels of cyanide and ammonia in August. The chemical spill killed fish, forced nearby beaches to shutter and kept visitors away from the newly designated Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

ArcelorMittal's toxic spill and permit infractions harm the environment, kill fish and endanger safe drinking water, said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law and Policy center.

The suit "calls for fines and penalties sufficiently large to change ArcelorMittal's environmental practices and modernize the company's equipment and operations to better reduce pollution damages going forward," Lerner said.

"ArcelorMittal should be held fully accountable for its pollution that harms local communities, the Lake Michigan shoreline and nearby waters, and the aquatic life and ecosystem of Northwest Indiana," he said.

A spokesman for ArcelorMittal said the company had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Indra Frank, environmental health and water policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the community cannot continue waiting for the state and federal governments to act in the face of "repeated, illegal damage to Lake Michigan."

"The damage has to stop for the sake of everyone who gets their drinking water from the lake; everyone who swims, fishes, or boats in the Lake; and the wildlife that make their home in the Lake," Frank said.

The groups said ArcelorMittal did not disclose the spill until after the public began discovering thousands of dead fish.

ArcelorMittal, one of Porter County's largest employers, has nearly 3,400 workers on a nearly 2,000-acre (809-hectare) swath along Lake Michigan, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) southeast of Chicago.

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