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Burns Waterway

Burns Waterway is seen April 12, a day after officials announced they determined a wastewater discharge from U.S. Steel's Portage facility contained hexavalent chromium. The carcinogenic chemical is a toxic byproduct of industrial processes that can cause reversible and irreversible skin lesions on direct contact, according to Save the Dunes.

CHICAGO — The city of Chicago has filed a lawsuit against U.S. Steel alleging the company violated the federal Clean Water Act by discharging excessive amounts of carcinogenic chemicals from its Midwest plant in Portage. 

The suit, in part, alleges U.S. Steel violated federal regulations and its wastewater permit with illegal discharges into a Lake Michigan tributary.

The complaint also says the company's April 2017 wastewater discharge of nearly 300 pounds of hexavalent chromium posed a threat to Lake Michigan public drinking water. 

U.S. Steel failed to report a second spill in October to the city, EPA or the public who use Lake Michigan recreationally or as a drinking water source, the suit alleges.

"Instead, U.S. Steel notified only (the Indiana Department of Environmental Management), and the company's written report requested that IDEM treat as confidential the information about the October 2017 discharge," the suit alleges. 

The complaint states laboratory results from Lake Michigan water samples collected during the April spill showed a plume of hexavalent chromium-contaminated water was migrating in a westerly direction toward an intake crib at the Eugene Sawyer Water Purification Plant.

The samples detected hexavalent chromium levels were "well in excess of residual values normally recorded."

IDEM spokesman Ryan Clem said the department is seeking penalties against U.S. Steel and working with its federal partners in negotiating an agreement that will be contained in a federal consent decree addressing the Clean Water Act violations.

Clem on Wednesday said he expects this to happen "in the near future."

U.S. Steel could not immediately be reached for comment but a spokesperson has previously said the company regrets the spills and that they worked to "swiftly remediate the issues" at the Midwest Plant.

The lawsuit asks for injunctive relief and civil penalties against U.S. Steel.

The federal lawsuit filed Wednesday comes a week after the Surfrider Foundation's Chicago chapter filed a similar suit against the company.

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Public safety reporter

Lauren covers breaking news, crime and courts for The Times. She previously worked at The Herald-News in Joliet covering government, public policy, and the region’s heroin epidemic. She holds a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting.