Groups sue ArcelorMittal over August fish kill, other alleged permit violations

A dead catfish floats along the bank of the Burns Ditch near the Portage Marina in August. Releases from two outfalls at ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor the week of Aug. 11 killed about 3,000 fish and kept visitors away from Indiana's newly designated Indiana Dunes National Park for more than a week.

Two environmental groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday in federal court accusing ArcelorMittal of violating its Clean Water Act permit more than 100 times in the past five years, including during an August spill that killed more than 3,000 fish.

The steelmaker's Burns Harbor facility discharged higher-than-permitted levels of cyanide and ammonia, killing the fish, forcing the closure of nearby beaches and keeping visitors away from the newly designated Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

The Environmental Law and Policy Center and Hoosier Environmental Council filed the lawsuit Wednesday after putting the steelmaker on notice in early October of their intent to sue.

Howard Learner, executive director of the ELPC, said ArcelorMittal's toxic spill and permit violations harm the environment, kill fish and threaten safe drinking water.

The lawsuit "calls for fines and penalties sufficiently large to change ArcelorMittal's environmental practices and modernize the company's equipment and operations to better reduce pollution damages going forward," Lerner said.

"ArcelorMittal should be held fully accountable for its pollution that harms local communities, the Lake Michigan shoreline and nearby waters, and the aquatic life and ecosystem of Northwest Indiana," he said. 

A spokesman for ArcelorMittal said Wednesday the company had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

Indra Frank, environmental health and water policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, said the community can no longer wait for the state and federal governments to act in the face of "repeated, illegal damage to Lake Michigan."

"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," Frank said.

The groups said ArcelorMittal did not report the spill until after the public starting discovering thousands of dead fish.

ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor is on the Lake Michigan shoreline and adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Park. The steel mill discharges pollution into the East Arm of the Little Calumet River, which flows directly into Lake Michigan.

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