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Midwest Plant Portage

U.S. Steel said Sept. 6, 2019, it detected a light, intermittent oil sheen at one of the outfalls at its Midwest Plant in Portage. It was the second time in less than three weeks that the facility reported a release of oil.

PORTAGE — State environmental regulators have responded at least four times to the U.S. Steel Midwest Plant this summer in response to reports of an oil sheen at its outfall into a Lake Michigan tributary, records show.

U.S. Steel recently said it contained oil sheens Aug. 20 and Friday near its outfall on the Burns Waterway, but Indiana Department of Environmental Management records show regulators also observed oil sheens near the outfall May 9 and again Aug. 8.

Indiana American Water brought its Ogden Dunes intake facility back online Wednesday morning after sampling results came back clear following the discharge Friday.

The water company, which serves about 80,000 customers across Northwest Indiana, previously shut down its intake Aug. 20 after oil sheens were reported near U.S. Steel's Portage facility and in ArcelorMittal's wastewater stream in Burns Harbor. IDEM also was responding at that time to a release from ArcelorMittal of above-permitted levels of cyanide and ammonia into the east branch of the Little Calumet River.

Records show IDEM referred U.S. Steel for possible legal action in connection with the May discharge and issued a noncompliance letter Sept. 6 for violations observed Aug. 8. 

U.S. Steel said Wednesday it was reviewing IDEM's Friday noncompliance letter and would respond accordingly.

"Safety and environmental stewardship are our top priorities, and we have implemented new containment measures at the Midwest Plant," spokeswoman Meghan Cox said.

U.S. Steel has previously said the oil sheens Aug. 20 and Friday were quickly contained and did not result in any risk of harm to people or the environment.

The company said sampling results after the incidents Aug. 20 and Friday showed substances were below permitted levels.

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However, U.S. Steel informed IDEM after the Aug. 20 discharged that it violated "narrative water quality standards," IDEM records show. Narrative water quality standards prohibit U.S. Steel from discharging any substances, materials, floating debris, scum or other pollutants that cause discoloration, odor or sheen resulting in a nuisance.

IDEM in June issued an inspection report and enforcement referral that stated U.S. Steel notified the state May 9 of discoloration and thin sheen present at one of its outfalls.

U.S. Steel eventually informed IDEM the problem was caused by "a failed seal of a sulfuric acid tank on the tin line." This conflicted with information given to IDEM earlier that the problem may have been due to a release of pickle liquor to the final wastewater treatment plant.

U.S. Steel subsequently informed IDEM an estimated 260 to 300 gallons of sulfuric acid was discharged May 9, records show.

IDEM determined U.S. Steel failed to timely notify downstream users of the spill, despite a public statement issued May 10.

"This public statement was not timely, was not directed to potentially affected downstream users, and did not detail of the actual potential problems at the site, including the potential release of what IDEM was initially informed was pickle liquor or what was eventually determined to be sulfuric acid," the letter states.

In another letter dated Sept. 6, IDEM informed U.S. Steel its inspectors observed violations at the plant after observing a "thin, sporadic oil sheen" Aug. 8 at the same outfall.

The department noted a number of other violations, including testing results recorded on temporary paper notes, unsatisfactory maintenance and improper data reporting.

IDEM directed U.S. Steel to respond within 30 days with a detailed response on corrective measures and a plan for future compliance.

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