Chicago

Hold U.S. Steel Accountable for Polluting Lake Michigan

Active | November 12 2017

Clean Water

Goal: To hold U.S. Steel accountable for illegal discharges into Lake Michigan and prevent future illegal discharges, to improve water quality and protect public health.

Last April, U.S. Steel illegally spilled around 350 pounds of chromium – nearly 300 pounds of which were highly toxic and carcinogenic hexavalent chromium, made famous in the movie Erin Brockovich — into a small waterway that feeds directly into Lake Michigan. 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.

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. 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 into water quality along Northwest Indiana beaches, working with lawyers and students from the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School. When news of the spill broke on April 11, that work took on a new level of urgency.

Surfrider and the Clinic 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. News 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 the health of lakefront ecosystems. Through years of violations and poor maintenance, regulators at the state and federal levels took no meaningful action.

In the interest of our Chicago Chapter, Surfrider Foundation has sent a Notice of Intent to Sue to U.S. Steel and plans to take legal action to ensure that the Clean Water Act violations are addressed.

Clean Water

Everyone should have access to clean water to surf, swim and play in. The Surfrider Foundation is taking a multi-tiered approach to tackle ocean pollution problems. We are testing the waters for bacteria and toxins, raising public awareness and finding real solutions to ocean pollution; solutions that restore healthy watersheds, protect local water supplies and keep pollution from reaching the ocean.

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