U.S. Steel Settles CWA Case Involving Wastewater Spill

A consent decree was filed in federal district court in the Northern District of Indiana that requires U.S. Steel to pay more than $600,000 as a civil penalty and to reimburse EPA and the National Park Service for response costs incurred after an April 2017 spill of wastewater containing hexavalent chromium that entered a waterway flowing into Lake Michigan.

U.S. Steel Corp. has agreed to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Water Act and Indiana law by improving the wastewater processing monitoring system at its steel manufacturing and finishing facility in Portage, Ind., which is known as the Midwest Plant. The U.S. Department of Justice and the state of Indiana announced April 2 that the company had agreed to a settlement and a consent decree was filed in federal district court in the Northern District of Indiana that requires U.S. Steel to pay more than $600,000 as a civil penalty and to reimburse EPA and the National Park Service for response costs incurred after an April 2017 spill of wastewater containing hexavalent chromium that entered a waterway flowing into Lake Michigan. U.S. Steel also will pay costs to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for assessing natural resource damage due to the spill and will pay damages to the Park Service resulting from the closure of several beaches along the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore after the spill.

The company has agreed to resolve allegations under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) by implementing a detailed protocol to notify relevant state and local authorities about any future spill from its Portage facility to the ground or water.

"Lake Michigan and the surrounding waterways are treasured resources worthy of protection from harmful pollution. Today's settlement with U.S. Steel appropriately penalizes the company for last year's wastewater spill, recoups the government's response costs and other losses, and requires significant actions by the company to prevent toxic spills like this from occurring again," said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey H. Wood for DOJ's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This settlement is a prime example of how federal and state counterparts can work hand in hand to enforce environmental laws to protect the health of our citizens and the environment."

"We are pleased that U.S. Steel has agreed to take the appropriate measures to protect and restore the waterways that were harmed by its spill that occurred in April 2017," added Thomas L. Kirsch II, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Indiana. "This settlement is a win for the people of Indiana, and we are happy to have worked with our state and federal partners to achieve this result."

"This is a major victory for Hoosiers in Northwest Indiana," said Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill. "Through our partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, we were able not only to collect fines, but, perhaps more importantly, to ensure that U.S. Steel will make improvements and changes in order to prevent future incidents that negatively impact the environment."

According to the DOJ news release, on April 11, 2017, U.S. Steel experienced a rupture in an expansion joint on one of its process wastewater pipes, discharging untreated wastewater containing hexavalent chromium into the Burns Waterway that flows into Lake Michigan. The quantity of hexavalent chromium discharged from the April 2017 spill significantly exceeded the limits of the plant's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permits, it says, adding that although U.S. Steel "provided immediate, oral notice of the April 2017 spill to appropriate state and local emergency personnel, it failed to follow up with the required written notification under EPCRA, given the quantity of material released."

Under the consent decree, U.S. Steel will repair its treatment plant pipes and containment trench, whose failures contributed to the April 2017 spill, and will develop wastewater operations and maintenance plans and preventive maintenance plans; design and implement new wastewater process monitoring; and sample daily for total and hexavalent chromium. The plant also will follow protocols attached to the decree for notifying appropriate entities, including the nearest downstream Indiana users, local governments, and the city of Chicago, whenever there is a spill or release of hazardous substances to the ground or water.

The settlement is subject to a 30-day public comment period following notification in the Federal Register and final approval by the court.

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