ArcelorMittal agrees to clean up toxic waste at Burns Harbor
BY Teresa Auch Schultz firstname.lastname@example.org July 20, 2012 1:18PM
Post-Tribune File Photo A large pile (seen on the far left) sits at the edge of ArcelorMittal's property in Burns Harbor. For at least a decade, ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor has been stockpiling 700,000 tons of steel-making waste at its property at the Port of Indiana. ptmet
Updated: July 20, 2012 8:25PM
ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor has agreed to monitor and clean up more than 3 million tons of waste — including one pile the Post-Tribune first reported on in 2010 — that has been dumped on open land near Lake Michigan, according to a news release.
The settlement, announced Friday, comes after about two years of talks between ArcelorMittal, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Save the Dunes and the Hoosier Environmental Council.
A Post-Tribune report in 2010 showed that about 275,000 tons of waste, which Save the Dunes and HEC call toxic, from a blast furnace had been dumped on open land next to the Port of Indiana Burns Harbor. IDEM issued a permit that year to ArcelorMittal, giving the company permission to build a landfill for the waste, but Save the Dunes objected, saying the permit did not enforce any regulations of the waste in the immediate future. The permit also did not issue a timeline for the handling of the waste, which some ArcelorMittal employees called “Easterly’s Pile” after Thomas Easterly, commissioner of IDEM and the former top environmental official at ArcelorMittal’s predecessor, Bethlehem Steel.
The settlement addresses that pile and others, including 1.8 million tons of sludge from a wastewater treatment plant, that contain contaminants such as benzene, arsenic, chromium and lead. The chemicals, which have been left open to the elements, can seep into groundwater that runs into Lake Michigan.
Save the Dunes Executive Director Nicole Barker said that leaving the waste without any monitors or controls means those chemicals were getting into Lake Michigan, a source of drinking water for millions of people.
“It could be blowing in the air; it was running into the groundwater,” she said.
Although ArcelorMittal had proposed to put the waste in a landfill, Kim Ferraro, Hoosier Environmental Council’s water policy director and attorney for Save the Dunes, said that could take years and precautions are needed now.
“The concern is that the landfill will take years to construct, and even longer before all those wastes are properly disposed of in the landfill.” Ferraro said.
Most parts of the settlement have been in place since September 2011, although the settlement now also calls for ground samples to be taken after the waste is removed.
Representatives for ArcelorMittal could not be reached for comment.
Barker said one of the positives of the agreement is that IDEM lays out a timeline for ArcelorMittal to regulate and clean up all the waste. Although the timelines vary for each section of waste, Ferraro said, the longest will be 10 years for the blast furnace waste. The environmental groups approved of 10 years because ArcelorMittal has said it can recycle the waste and needs time to prove that.
“We’d rather have it recycled rather than landfilled,” Ferraro said.
Until then, the company has to monitor groundwater around the waste, construct berms to block contaminated water flowing into Lake Michigan and install caps over the waste to keep the wind from blowing it around.