Legal, Water Quality
January 16 2018

Surfrider Sues U.S. Steel for Lake Michigan Pollution

by Staley Prom

As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) have yet to take enforcement action against U.S. Steel within the 60-day notice period, the Surfrider Foundation has followed through on its Notice of Intent to Sue the U.S. Steel Corporation for the company’s repeated pollution of Lake Michigan.

The Surfrider Foundation, represented by the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago Law School, and on behalf of its Chicago Chapter, filed a complaint today in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division.  The complaint asks the court to order U.S. Steel to stop violating its Clean Water Act permit, including an order to complete all actions necessary to ensure it stops discharging pollutants into the water in violation of its permit, and for heavy penalties against the corporation for its numerous violations including at least 90 days of self-reported pollutant discharge violations, over 30 monitoring and reporting violations, and at least six maintenance violations over the past five year statute of limitations period.

Perhaps most egregiously, in April 2017, U.S. Steel illegally spilled around 350 pounds of chromium – nearly 300 pounds of which were highly toxic and carcinogenic hexavalent chromium - into a small waterway that empties directly into Lake Michigan, near a popular recreation and surf spot. 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 and closed public drinking water intakes.

U.S. Steel has furthermore continued to violate its permit with respect to chromium discharges.  In November, the Abrams Clinic and Surfrider learned that according to an October 31, 2017 letter from U.S. Steel to IDEM, during a 24-hour period in October, U.S. Steel discharged approximately twice the daily limit of chromium from one of its outfalls.  These continued, repeated violations suggest that U.S. Steel continues to be plagued by poor maintenance practices and operations, which continue to have dire consequences on Lake Michigan and the public, who rely on the lake for recreation and even as a drinking water source.

The Southend of Lake Michigan is a unique spot for surfers and other water recreators, where massive and aging industrial facilities sit right among rare natural beauty and great waves. Surfrider's action to hold U.S. Steel accountable for its impact on that unique environment sends a clear message that those who love Lake Michigan will not sit idly by when the big corporations along its coast disregard and violate the environmental laws designed to protect their Lake. The Surfrider Foundation is hopeful that through this action, U.S. Steel will be required to take all appropriate remedial measures to correct its operational and maintenance deficiencies, and be penalized sufficiently to ensure U.S. Steel will stop polluting Lake Michigan.  

To learn more about this campaign, visit the Chicago Chapter’s website here.

* Photo by Mike Killion // @killertown