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Gary Works, Indiana Harbor steel mills big reasons why Indiana third worst nationally in toxic chemical release

U.S. Steel's Gary Works facility is shown.The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified it as the leading source of toxic chemical releases in Indiana in 2017.

Indiana ranked third worst nationally in the release of toxic chemicals per square mile in 2017, the most recent year for which data is available, and the state's steel industry was a big part of the reason why.

Two Northwest Indiana steel mills were among the top five manufacturing facilities generating the most toxic releases that could pose a threat to human health and the environment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's recently released 2017 Toxics Release Inventory National Analysis.

Gary Works led the state by releasing 25.2 million pounds of toxic chemicals, more than double the next biggest polluter in Indiana in 2017. ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor in East Chicago was fourth statewide, with 7.3 million pounds released that year.

AK Steel Rockport Works was second, and Sabic Innovative Plastics in Mt. Vernon was third.

The EPA defines Toxics Release Inventory releases as potentially harmful chemicals that are emitted into the air, discharged into the water, placed in land disposal, or transferred to off-site land disposal.

Indiana had a total of 899 facilities releasing toxic chemicals in 2017, discharging 126.14 million pounds of chemicals, or about 3.5 million pounds per square mile, according to the EPA. Only Utah and Nevada were worse per square mile nationwide.

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Hoosier companies released 78.9 million pounds of waste on-site, 47.1 million pounds off-site, 39.3 million pounds onto the land, 25.4 million pounds into the air, and 14.1 pounds into the air in 2017, the EPA found.

Northwest Indiana's two largest steel mills — Gary Works and ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor — together accounted for more than a fourth of the chemicals released statewide.

Overall, Indiana companies managed 3 billion pounds of production-related waste in Indiana in 2017, but the vast majority of it was non-toxic.

“It is possible for American industry to be both good stewards of the environment and good for the economy,” EPA Regional Administrator Cathy Stepp said. “Through our commitment of providing regulatory certainty and working together with our industry partners, we can promote a strong and robust economy, while preventing environmental harm.”

Chemical releases in the Great Lakes region rose 7 percent in 2017, but are down by nearly 40 percent as compared to 2007. Utilities have reduced air emissions by 86 percent over the last decade, and the chemical manufacturing sector by 38 percent.

“By communicating TRI data in a clear and consistent manner, EPA is utilizing the power of transparency to notify the public of important public health information and simultaneously encourage industry to improve environmental outcomes,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said.

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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.