Environmental groups file notice of Clean Water Act lawsuit against ArcelorMittal over fish kill, discharges

Dead fish are seen in August at the Sammie L. Maletta Public Marina in Portage. Two environmental groups plan to sue ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor for water quality violations under the Clean Water Act, including the cyanide discharge that killed 3,000 fish in August.

Two environmental groups served a 60-day notice of their intent to file a Clean Water Act lawsuit against ArcelorMittal for violations of its water permit at its Burns Harbor steel mill, where any discharge enters the east arm of the Little Calumet River and flows into Lake Michigan near the Indiana Dunes National Park.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and Hoosier Environmental Council say that ArcelorMittal repeatedly violated permit limits for total cyanide, free cyanide and ammonia at the Burns Harbor mill. The groups said they would sue after the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not take enforcement action after 100 reported water quality violations, including a cyanide discharge in August that killed 3,000 fish and closed nearby beaches at the Indiana Dunes National Park.

“Fortunately, the Clean Water Act authorizes citizens to sue when the government lets us down,” Environmental Law and Policy Center Staff Attorney Jeffrey Hammons said. “ArcelorMittal needs to be held accountable, and IDEM and EPA need to do a better job of protecting Lake Michigan, Indiana Dunes National Park and the people who enjoy them.”

The environmental groups said repeated discharges from the mill affect visitors to the National Park, fish habitats in Lake Michigan and the Little Calumet River, and people across the Calumet Region.

“In the face of this repeated, illegal damage to Lake Michigan, we can no longer just stand by and wait for the state and federal government to act,” Hoosier Environmental Council Environmental Health and Water Policy Director Indra Frank said. “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.”

ArcelorMittal spokesman William Steers said the steelmaker was unable to comment on the threatened lawsuit but would focus "on compliance and reassuring our community stakeholders that we are hearing and taking their concerns very seriously."

"ArcelorMittal continues to work with federal and state authorities including USEPA, IDEM, IDNR and others to address the issues and concerns arising out of the events that resulted in the release," he said. "ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor continues daily monitoring and reporting to the regulatory agencies, which has demonstrated compliance with our permit requirements since Aug. 17, including cyanide and ammonia."

The company said the August fish kill occurred because of a loss of power at a pump station, that workers did not believe it would lead to any concerns of cyanide, and that it notified the Indiana Department of Environmental Management the same day it received the test results. ArcelorMittal said it was "a unique and unfortunate event" and that it was trying to prevent future cyanide discharges and fish kills.


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.