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Explosion rocks ArcelorMittal Friday
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Explosion rocks ArcelorMittal Friday

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EAST CHICAGO — An explosion took place at ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor East on Friday morning, damaging a basic oxygen furnace at #4 Steel Producing.

"There was an explosion," United Steelworkers District 7 Director Mike Millsap said. "To the best of my knowledge, nobody is hurt. There is limited damage that is currently being assessed."

Millsap said it was not immediately known how significant the damage was, or to what extent the steel mill's operations were disrupted. 

"They are assessing the damage," he said. "My main concern was nobody was hurt."

ArcelorMittal spokespeople did not immediately return messages.

The blast occurred on the steel-making side at the former Inland Steel mill at ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor, which is the largest integrated steel-making complex in North America and a consolidation of the former Inland mill on the east side and LTV mill on the west side under the same management and one banner.

"We are extremely blessed that there were no injuries caused by the explosion," USW Local 1010 President Steve Wagner said. "No one from management has informed me as to the extent of damages."

Inland Steel, once one of the 10 largest steel companies in the United States, built the mill at Indiana Harbor on Lake Michigan in 1902. The steel mill once employed more than 25,000 workers and made about 5% of the nation's steel, but suffered massive layoffs during the 1980s as the American steel industry shrunk nationwide. The mill was purchased by Ispat International in 1998, which became part of Mittal Steel in 2004 and ArcelorMittal in 2006 as the steel industry consolidated globally in search of better efficiency of scale.

About 4,000 steelworkers now work at the 3,095-acre ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor complex, making hot-rolled, cold-rolled, hot-dipped galvanized and aluminized sheet products. The metal forged there is used in cars, appliances, construction, strip converters and oil and gas pipes and drills across the country.

It's one of the American steel industry's leaders in new automotive products like advanced strength steel and supplies the coil to I/N Tek and I/N Kote in New Carlisle.

The explosion is just the latest problem to afflict Northwest Indiana's aging steel mills, which were mostly constructed on the south shore of Lake Michigan more than a century ago. Last month, a leak in a pipe caused extensive flooding at the Gary Works steel mill, forcing U.S. Steel to idle the blast furnaces there for as long as a week in a highly unusual disruption of steelmaking operations.

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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.

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