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Consent decree to force Indiana Harbor Coke co. limit pollution, build new coke ovens

The ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor complex in October, 2016, in East Chicago. Indiana Coke Co., a contractor there, entered into a consent decree that requires it to limit air pollution and pay a $5 million fine.

After repeated Clean Air Act violations and being branded as one of the Region's worst polluters, a coke company that supplies the ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor steel mill officially entered into a consent decree with the state and federal governments to curb air pollution, pay a $5 million fine, and clean up lead contamination that's plagued East Chicago.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Van Bokkelen of the Northern District of Indiana accepted the court settlement between the Environment Protection Agency, the state of Indiana and Cokenergy, Sun Coke Energy and its subsidiary Indiana Harbor Coke Co.

Under the agreement, Indiana Harbor Coke Co. must rebuild Batteries A, C, and D ovens at its East Chicago operation and idle any coke ovens that aren't rebuilt by the end of the year. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management and EPA must certify that its rebuilds of five coke ovens in Battery B last year did indeed prevent further gas leaks.

If visible emissions are seen during daily inspections, Indiana Harbor Coke Co. has to fix the leak in 15 minutes to 45 minutes by taking the oven out service, if practical to do so. Under the consent decree, Indiana Harbor Coke Co. is limited to releasing 12 percent to 14 percent of coke oven waste gases through bypass venting a year, and is not allowed to vent more than 19 percent of the coke oven waste gases in a single day.

Coke Energy must install and operate a flow monitor at its main stack so it can file daily reports on its emissions, including sulfur content and moisture content, based on actual flow measurements. It's also required to establish a meteorological station that will track wind speed and direction to get a better idea of where emissions are going at any given time.

Under the terms of the settlement, the company must do two stack tests to measure the emission rate of lead within the next five years, and one stack test measuring the emission rate of Volatile Organic Compounds or VOCs.

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It will have to follow a strict Preventative Maintenance and Operations Plan and limit the average monthly sulfur content of dry coal of 0.9 percent and the average monthly tons of dry coal charged to 144,000 tons.

Cokenergy must spend at least $250,000 on community environmental remediation projects "designed to reduce the exposure to lead in schools, day care centers, and/or other buildings where owners are unable to afford lead hazard abatement work in Lake County, Indiana, with priority given to facilities with young children and/or pregnant women in East Chicago," according to the consent decree.

"Cokenergy shall conduct an initial screening to determine which structures built prior to 1978 are likely to contain lead paint. Cokenergy shall consult with the Indiana Health Department to identify structures in East Chicago, Indiana, with the highest potential risk of childhood lead exposure based on building age, last replacement of windows, and reported elevated blood lead levels in children attending the school/daycare," the consent decree said. "Cokenergy shall utilize an Indiana-licensed lead risk assessor to conduct a risk assessment of the building(s) upon which Cokenergy intends to perform the Lead Hazard Reduction Supplemental Environmental Project."

Under the agreement, the companies face additional fines if they continue to release air pollution for coke oven leaks, up to $600 per additional coking cycle with each coke oven leak beyond 8 percent.

The EPA, IDEM, the Department of Justice and the Office of the Indiana Attorney General have said in a news release that the deal would ultimately result "in significant reductions in harmful air pollution and is welcome news for East Chicago."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.