Several steelmaking facilities in Indiana, including one under investigation for its pollution reporting, are now under new ownership.
Five facilities in Indiana formerly owned by ArcelorMittal USA, including steel mills in Burns Harbor and East Chicago, now belong to Cleveland-Cliffs Inc.
The Ohio-based company acquired the facilities in Indiana and 14 more across the country in a $1.4 billion deal that makes Cleveland-Cliffs the largest flat-rolled steel producer in North America.
Cleveland-Cliffs CEO Lourenco Goncalves said the acquisition will provide financial and environmental benefits to local communities.
“As one company, we will continue our commitment to a socially-conscious and environmentally-friendly integrated steel supply chain,” said Goncalves in a conference call with investors. “We will continue to be green and socially responsible, and we will be greener and even more socially responsible each and every year into the future.”
Goncalves said the company would reduce its carbon footprint beginning in 2021.
The linchpin of the company’s efforts is the large-scale adoption of locally-produced hot-briquetted iron in its steelmaking processes instead of more carbon intensive crude iron, known as pig iron, that is imported from Russia, Ukraine or Brazil.
HBI contains less impurities, making it more efficient in the production of high-quality steel than pig iron or coke, another steelmaking fuel that emits highly toxic and carcinogenic air pollutants.
Cleveland-Cliffs will produce HBI with natural gas at a new facility in Toledo, Ohio, that will open later this year.
“We are going to use HBI across the board, particularly in our blast furnaces. And when you put HBI in your blast furnace, you are not only increasing productivity, but we are also reducing coke rates. So, we are reducing cost and we are reducing the generation of CO2,” said Goncalves. “We are going to have HBI to initiate a trend in the integrated steel industry that I believe we are uniquely positioned to do. Green will be the norm.”
The change in ownership may alter a trend of accidents and pollution events at the several facilities formerly owned by ArcelorMittal.
In the past two years, ArcelorMittal facilities in Indiana have experienced several furnace explosions at its Burns Harbor and East Chicago facilities. The most recent explosion happened July 16, when an equipment failure led to a fire at Burns Harbor’s blast furnace D.
An equipment failure at the Burns Harbor mill in Aug. 2019 led to a release of cyanide and ammonia into the Little Calumet River that killed thousands of fish and the closure of public beaches on Lake Michigan.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management found that the ArcelorMittal knew it was releasing excess levels of the toxic chemicals and failed to notify IDEM for days instead of the two hours required by law.
Subsequent investigations found reporting and effluent sample testing violations. IDEM investigators found the company and the laboratory contracted to test the samples may have tried to manipulate data by retesting water data samples until they showed chemical levels at legal limits.
ArcelorMittal denied manipulating data, but IDEM inspectors continued finding monitoring and testing violations in inspections in March and July.
An inspection in August found more than a dozen discharge violations at the facility that resulted in excess amounts of ammonia nitrogen being discharged into the East Branch of the Little Calumet River and Lake Michigan.