Chesterton Tribune



Group goes to court to hold USS accountable for April spill

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The Surfrider Foundation, a not-for-profit environmental organization advocating for clean water, has filed a notice of intent to sue U.S. Steel Corporation for “repeated Clean Water Act violations,” in connection with the release into the Burns Waterway in April of nearly 300 pounds of a known carcinogenic chemical: hexavalent chromium.

“This massive and dangerous discharge next door to the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, and a mere eight miles from the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, ultimately shut down public beaches from Gary to Michigan City for six days, closed public drinking water intakes, and endangered aquatic life,” according to a statement released by Surfrider on Tuesday.

“State and federal authorities still have yet to take any enforcement action, even in the wake of the April spills and calls for action from residents, organizations, and elected officials,” Surfrider said. “Under the federal Clean Water Act, Surfrider’s ‘Notice of Intent to Sue” letter starts a 60-day notice period, after which Surfrider will be able to file a complaint in federal court and formally initiate a citizen suit against U.S. Steel.”

“It is possible that the Indiana Department of Environmental Management or U.S. EPA will step up with their own enforcement action,” Surfrider noted. “If so, Surfrider will remain involved and vigilant to ensure these agencies hold U.S. Steel accountable for breaking the law and threatening our beaches and public safety. If these government regulators fail to act, Surfrider will proceed with our citizen suit. Should the regulators decide to act, Surfrider Foundation will nonetheless remain engaged and continue advocating for the health of our beautiful and ecologically important Great Lakes coastline.”

Surfrider Claims a Pattern at USS

“Even before the April spill, surfers, including some Surfrider members who enjoy the Portage Lakefront, were some of the first to raise concerns about the steel plant next door,” Surfrider said. “They were alarmed by the unseasonably bathwater-like temperatures near the U.S. Steel plant. Wanting to know more about the water they spent so much time in, Surfrider began to look at water quality along Northwest Indiana beaches, working with lawyers from the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School.”

Together, Surfrider and Abrams “found that high temperatures and the hexavalent chromium spill were just a few links in a larger chain of other chemical spills, inadequate monitoring and reporting, and shoddy maintenance,” the statement said. “New reports from the past several years already detail how U.S. Steel has delayed needed plant upgrades and laid off necessary maintenance workers in a deliberate strategy of cost-cutting at the expense of worker safety and health of lakefront ecosystems. Through years of violations and poor maintenance, regulators at the state and federal levels took no meaningful action.”

“We want to bring about real and lasting positive change to the way U.S. Steel co-exists with the inhabitants of the community and the recreational users of the lake,” said Mitch McNeil, chair of Surfrider’s Chicago Chapter. “U.S. Steel and other polluters must realize they will be held accountable for ignoring the water quality rules that are in place.”

National Parks Conservation Association

Late Tuesday, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) released a statement in support of Surfrider’s letter of intent.

“It is encouraging to see today’s announcement of a legal challenge against U.S. Steel for repeated violations of the Clean Water Act,” NPCA Midwest Senior Director Lynn McClure said. “This is strong action taken to protect Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Lake Michigan. The April chemical spill of hexavalent chromium at U.S. Steel’s Midwest plant released nearly 600 times the maximum daily limit, closing beaches at Indiana Dunes and putting public health and fragile park resources at risk.”

“When Congress established Indiana Dunes it also created the Port of Indiana to foster industrial growth,” McClure added. “Preserving the rich biodiversity at Indiana Dunes and protecting the park’s more than two million annual visitors is nearly impossible if adjacent industry is allowed to dump toxic chemicals unchecked into park waters. There is no telling what the long-term impacts will be for the community or the park from this year’s spill, which makes the role of the Environmental Protection Agency critical to the clean-up effort.”

“Thanks to Surfrider Foundation and Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago, we now know the extent to which pollution and negligence is putting this national park at risk,” McClure concluded. “We strongly encourage EPA to enforce the Clean Water Act, which has protected our nation’s streams, wetlands, lakes and rivers for 45 years, hold U.S. Steel accountable and protect the health of our national park, its waters, visitors and wildlife.”



Posted 11/15/2017




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