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Fish kill report: Arcelor failed to notify IDEM of earlier system failure

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By KEVIN NEVERS

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) has found ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor in seven different violations of its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, in connection with the fish-kill which began on Aug. 12 along the East Branch of the Little Calumet River.

That fish-kill was the result of discharges of cyanide and ammonia following a catastrophic failure on Aug. 11 of ArcelorMittal’s blast furnace gas-washing recycle-system pump station.

In particular, in a report released on Monday, IDEM found that ArcelorMittal failed to provide timely notification not only of the Aug. 11 failure--“within two hours of discovery”--but also of an earlier failure of the recycle system, on or about Aug. 4, which resulted in “the continuous unauthorized release of thousands of gallons per minute of blast furnace washing wastewater.”

These releases, IDEM said, “posed a significant danger to human health or the environment and constituted reportable spills, thereby triggering the aforementioned reporting requirements.”

Other violations:

--Failure to provide requested information: After being directed to conduct daily monitoring at Outfall 001, using the sample type stipulated by the NPDES permit, ArcelorMittal failed both to use the required sampling method and the required analytical method.

--Failure to efficiently operate and maintain facility in good working order at all times: “On Aug. 4 and again on Aug. 11 through Aug. 15, 2019, (ArcelorMittal) failed to at all times maintain in good working order” the blast furnace gas-washing recycling system, the cyanide destruction unit, and the stormwater treatment plant.

--Failure to mitigate adverse impact: On Aug. 4 ArcelorMittal “failed to accelerate monitoring” of two discharge outfalls “response to the outage” of the recycle system; on Aug. 11 through Aug. 15, the company again failed to accelerate monitoring; and on Aug. 11 through Aug. 15 the company “did not alter its plant operations or take any other actions to reduce the rate or volume of blast furnace gas washing wastewater being generated and released.”

--And IDEM found ArcelorMittal in violation of its NPDES permit for violations of narrative effluent limitations; violations of numeric effluent limitations; and prohibited discharges.

Response to IDEM’s Report

On Wednesday, Save the Dunes, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Surfrider Foundation Chicago Chapter, Indiana Wildlife Federation, Hoosier Environmental Council, Izaak Walton League and Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter released a joint statement on ArcelorMittal’s “shocking” failure to provide timely notification of both the Aug. 4 and Aug. 11 system failures.

“There is overwhelming evidence that ArcelorMittal knew early on that, due to its equipment failure, cyanide would be destined for the river,” said Natalie Johnson, executive director of Save the Dunes. “The egregious decision to not mitigate the impact or immediately report to IDEM, drinking water utilities, or the National Park is absolutely unacceptable.”

“ArcelorMittal is responsible and should be held accountable for dozens of violations of the Clean Water Act, way beyond the one addressed in the IDEM report,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center. “That’s why the Environmental Law & Policy Center and the Hoosier Environmental Council served a 60-day notice of intent to bring a Clean Water Act enforcement lawsuit against ArcelorMittal for more than 100 violations of its permit, including water quality violations that harm ecological and public health.”

From Mitch McNeil of the Surfrider Foundation Chicago Chapter: “The actions taken by ArcelorMittal to knowingly and negligently send cyanide-tainted wastewater into Lake Michigan, as described in this report, are criminal. The steel industry is important to the economy, but so is Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan supports wildlife, recreation, commerce, and is a source of drinking water. Treating the lake as a dumping ground with such blatant disregard for its beneficial uses is unacceptable, and actions to that effect taken by ArcelorMittal, U.S. Steel, or any other company cannot be tolerated.”

“Research shows that chemical spills into aquatic habitats can have cascading effects that can impact wildlife and the food web for years after the incident,” said Emily Wood, executive director of the Indiana Wildlife Federation. “With the number of threats already putting pressure on our Great Lakes ecosystems, we have no room for companies acting without integrity.”

From Dr. Indra Frank, director of environmental health and water policy with the Hoosier Environmental Council: “ArcelorMittal's irresponsible actions documented in this report deserve a significant penalty, one large enough to serve as a strong incentive to do better in the future.”

“We are very concerned about the continuing history of the steel industry exceeding its permits and not timely reporting. This puts at risk the drinking water for millions of Americans and threatens the sporting fishing industry,” said Dean Farr, Izaak Walton League. “We hope that IDEM and the industry will develop best practices to responsibly produce steel while sustaining both the environment and the economy.”

“The report reveals a remarkable level of disrespect on ArcelorMittal's part for public safety, wildlife impacts, and IDEM's regulatory authority," said Bowden Quinn, director of the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter. “I hope the department comes down hard on the company for this flagrant disregard of proper operating procedures.”

The statement noted that the violations identified by IDEM have been referred to the IDEM Office of Water Quality Enforcement Section for further action. Such enforcement actions may include the payment of civil penalties, the reimbursement of response costs, and damages incurred as a result of the spill.

 

Posted 10/24/2019

 
 
 
 

 

 

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