U.S. Steel is starting to restore blast furnaces to operation at the sprawling Gary Works steel mill after severe flooding the day before Thanksgiving.
The Pittsburgh-based steelmaker, one of Northwest Indiana's largest employers, hopes to bring its steel-making operations at the nation's largest steel mill back online by next week.
"On Nov. 27, U.S. Steel reported a service water leak that caused flooding at our Gary Works facility near our blast furnace operations," U.S. Steel spokeswoman Amanda Malkowski said. "As a precaution, we proactively stopped the blast furnaces and steel production to protect our people, assets and the environment until the issue was resolved."
United Steelworkers District 7 Director Mike Millsap said the leak was from a massive water pipe that brings Lake Michigan water into the mill to cool its furnaces and other steel-making equipment. The blast furnaces — which normally burn 24/7 on Northwest Indiana's lakefront to make the pig iron that's turned into steel for cars, appliances and buildings — were shut down as a safety precaution because exposing super-heated metal to cold water can cause explosions.
Steelworkers and skilled union tradespeople worked around the clock over the holiday to vacuum water out of the steel mill, which can produce up to 7.5 million tons of pig iron a year. The flooding had been so significant employees' cars were partly submerged underwater at the mill, which stretches for seven miles along the Lake Michigan shoreline and is the largest mill of the Fortune 250 U.S. Steel, the second largest steelmaker headquartered in the United States by volume.
"The water disruption has been resolved and the team is in the process of restarting auxiliary assets within Gary," Malkowski said. "We expect the first blast furnace to be brought back on line over the weekend. Gary Works is expected to be back to its pre-flood blast furnace footprint by mid-week. Customers should not be adversely impacted by these steps."
U.S. Steel observed discoloration at the outfall into Lake Michigan when the flooding took place, but tests thus far have not shown any discharges of industrial chemical in excess of what state permits allow, she said.
"IDEM and other appropriate agencies and downstream users were notified," Malkowski said. "Additional sampling is ongoing to ensure environmental performance, though we have not noted any exceedances in our testing to date. The safety of our people, assets, the environment and the surrounding community remain our top priority as we resume iron and steel production at Gary."
An Indiana Department of Environmental Management spokesperson said the state office's were closed for the Thanksgiving holiday, so no update would be available until next week.
A disruption of this magnitude is extremely rare at the hulking integrated steel mill at 1 N. Broadway in Gary, which dates back to 1906. The steel mill has four blast furnaces that forge raw material into new steel and finishing facilities that treat it for various applications. Gary Works produces hot-rolled, cold-rolled and galvanized sheet steel products for automakers, appliance manufacturers and construction projects.
The massive mill is also home to a tin mill that makes tin products for cans of food, aerosol cans, and paint cans.