State and federal inspectors found that a recently sold Burns Harbor steel mill continued violating state and federal environmental regulations as the sale was being finalized.
Inspectors from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found continued permit and self-monitoring violations at the ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor facility less than a month after Ohio-based Cleveland-Cliffs Inc. announced it was acquiring ArcelorMittal USA LLC in a $1.4 billion deal.
The finding comes as the facility and its former parent company faced increased scrutiny over its pollution and the veracity of its data collection and reporting.
IDEM and the EPA inspected the Burns Harbor facility Oct. 26 and released the report in November.
The inspectors evaluated the facility’s permit and self-monitoring areas as “unsatisfactory,” the lowest rating possible.
The company installed a temporary stripping tower, which removes pollutants from liquids, and used sodium hydroxide to adjust the pH of ammonia before the chemical enters the stripping tower without notifying IDEM.
Inspectors also found self-monitoring violations, including the storage of effluent sampling at non-definitive temperatures that could change sample testing results.
“The temperatures of the samples stored in the auto-samplers are presumed to be the same as the temperature readouts displayed on the autosamplers rather than determined by thermometers in liquids stored within the auto-samplers,” the report stated. “The auto-sampler temperature readouts are reflective of the air temperature within the auto-sampler and are subject to fluctuations, caused by such things as the auto-sampler door being briefly opened. Accordingly, these readouts are not necessarily reflective of the temperatures of the liquids stored within the auto-samplers.”
The self-monitoring violations continue a trend found in the months after the facility released large amounts of cyanide and ammonia into the Little Calumet River in August 2019, killing more than 3,000 fish and leading to the closure of public beaches on Lake Michigan.
Following the release, inspectors found self-monitoring violations that could have skewed analysis results, including retesting of the same sample multiple times until the sample tested did not show a pollutant exceedance, breaks in water sample custody chain and similar sample temperature variances.
ArcelorMittal denied manipulating data, and EPA records show IDEM has pursued only informal enforcement actions against the company for its continuous violations at the Burns Harbor facility.
The Burns Harbor facility and all other ArcelorMittal USA facilities are now owned by Cleveland-Cliffs Inc.
Cleveland-Cliffs has not responded to several requests by the Indiana Environmental Reporter to find out what, if any, action it will take to remedy the violation problems at Burns Harbor and the other facilities in Indiana.
The company has pledged to run its facilities in a “socially-conscious and environmentally-friendly way,” including reducing the company’s carbon footprint by using locally-produced hot-briquetted iron to make steel instead of more carbon-intensive imported pig iron.
The acquisition of ArcelorMittal USA was finalized Dec. 9