by Victoria Wittig, Sr. Program Specialist, Save the Dunes
On October 21st, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) released its investigation report on August’s fish kill in the East Branch of the Little Calumet River that resulted from a "catastrophic failure of a pump station that is an essential part of its blast furnace gas washing recycle system" at ArcelorMittal’s Burns Harbor (AMBH) facility. The report includes details on the incident and its cause, the response from both IDEM and ArcelorMittal, and the description of violations that occurred. While we await the upcoming reports from ArcelorMittal and the Environmental Protection Agency, here is a brief summary of what the IDEM report reveals:
- The event at the ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor (AMBH) facility that ultimately led to the toxic release of cyanide and ammonia nitrogen into the East Branch of the Little Calumet (EBLC) River that flows into Lake Michigan resulted from a failure on August 4th.
- There were no alarms in place to alert plant operators when an essential re-chargeable battery failed.
- As a result, toxic levels of cyanide and ammonia nitrogen pollution were released continuously from August 11th-15th in quantities - way above permitted levels. In fact, millions and then thousands of gallons per minute were released during this four-day stretch.
- Moreover, the report indicates that ArcelorMittal had full knowledge of the equipment failure that would result in the “continuous release of thousands of gallons per minute of blast furnace gas washing wastewater, known, by the nature of its origin, to contain pollutants including Cyanide, to a treatment plant not designed or equipped to treat Cyanide.”
- The report further reveals that ArcelorMittal not only failed to reduce their toxic discharges despite having the capacity to do so, but they also failed to immediately notify IDEM.
- The complete list of violations identified in the report include:
- Discharges not allowable under the facility’s NPDES permit,
- Failure to provide required notifications,
- Failure to efficiently operate and maintain facility in good working order at all times,
- Failure to mitigate adverse impact, and
- Numerous effluent limitation violations.
- The violations identified in the report have been referred to the IDEM Office of Water Quality Enforcement Section for further action. Such enforcement actions may include the payment of civil penalties, the reimbursement of response costs, and damages incurred as a result of the spill.
In response, environmental organizations including Save the Dunes, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Surfrider Foundation Chicago Chapter, Indiana Wildlife Federation, Hoosier Environmental Council, Izaac Walton League and Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter issued a joint press release that captures their collective shock:
Save the Dunes will continue to keep you informed when reports from ArcelorMittal and the EPA become available for review, will help you to understand how this impacts you and how you can take action.
The full IDEM report and corresponding documents are available at www.in.gov/idem/cleanwater/2576.htm.