Chesterton Tribune

 

 

Environmental groups say USS consent decree in chemical spill needs more teeth

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The National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) and other environmental groups are questioning this week’s consent decree under which U.S. Steel Corporation (USS) will pay a $600,000 civil penalty as well as $630,000 in reimbursement following last year’s carcinogenic chemical spill into Burns Waterway at the company’s Portage plant.

In that spill, in April 2017, a mechanical malfunction at the plant allowed 300 pounds of hexavalent chromium to enter the waterway, nearly 600 times the daily allowable limit. Public beaches were closed, Indiana American Water Company closed its water intake facility in Ogden Dunes, and health warnings were issued.

Under the consent decree, USS will pay penalties to the National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other agencies burdened with cleanup. The consent decree also requires USS to implement a new protocol for notifying these agencies and the public in the event of another spill, “make woefully needed repairs to their facilities’ infrastructure,” and conduct daily monitoring measures to avoid future spills, NPCA noted.

“However, there are elements missing from the consent decree such as timelines for implementation, as well as technical information and without them, the public cannot make informed comments on the proposal,” NPCA said. “Due to the long history of violations by U.S. Steel with no enforcement, the public must be sure that U.S. Steel will be held accountable for carrying out these actions.”

“The consent decree recognizes a minimum 30-day comment period, but more time is appropriate,” NPCA also said. “An extended comment period, beyond the 30 days proposed, and public meetings during which questions can be answered are critical. These details are essential to protecting the drinking water for nearly 7 million people, Lake Michigan water quality, and park visitors to Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which generates $350 million in the surrounding communities each year.”

“Thousands of NPCA members called on EPA to take action to protect Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore,” said Colin Deverell, Midwest program manager for NPCA. “Critical elements of this agreement are not yet published. The public deserves more time to better understand a deal that will impact their drinking water, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the multi-million-dollar tourism economy the park supports.”

“The Great Lakes are our region’s greatest asset, providing drinking water to millions of people. Industries that utilize the lakes have a responsibility to protect the water for all who share it,” said Alliance for the Great Lakes Vice President for Policy Molly Flanagan. “We urge a longer public comment period to provide ample time for the public to review U.S. Steel’s yet to be released plans for preventing this type of pollution in the future.”

“This is a much needed enforcement action,” said Indra Frank, environmental health and water policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council. “We are hoping to see provisions that prevent future spills in the portions of the decree that haven’t been released yet.”

“While the consent decree addresses some of our concerns, such as requiring a preventive maintenance plan, we need more assurance that it goes far enough to protect our residents, drinking water and the Ogden Dunes beach,” said Scott Lehmann, president of the Ogden Dunes Town Council. “We also believe a public hearing should be held to provide an opportunity for citizen participation.”

“Lake Michigan provides drinking water, supports local economies, and enhances quality of life for Hoosiers and is critical to the health of the Indiana Dunes ecosystem,” said Natalie Johnson, executive director of Save the Dunes. “These resources deserve the utmost protection and Save the Dunes joins partners and local communities in ensuring this settlement adequately addresses the impacts of U.S. Steel’s violations of the Clean Water Act.”

 

 

Posted 4/5/18

 


 

 
 
 

 

 

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