USA Reaches an Agreement with Cleveland-Cliffs for 2019 Toxic Chemical Spill

On Monday, the United States of America and the State of Indiana filed a complaint in the Northern District of Indiana against Cleveland-Cliffs Burns Harbor LLC and Cleveland-Cliffs Steel LLC for a 2019 discharge of toxic chemicals into Lake Michigan, which resulted in the killing of marine life and the closure of several public beaches in Indiana.

The defendants own the Burns Harbor Facility, “one of the largest fully integrated steel mills in  North America, with the capacity to produce approximately 5 million tons of raw steel per year.” The facility has a federal NPDES permit which authorizes it to “discharge treated wastewater, stormwater, and non-contact cooling water, as well as treated sanitary sewage wastewater from the Town of Burns dHarbor’s wastewater treatment plant.” The plaintiffs alleged that Cleveland-Cliffs sends once-through, unrecycled water into the treatment plant despite not being allowed to do so. Because of this, the facility allegedly discharged toxins including cyanide and ammonia into Lake Michigan. Furthermore, in August 2019, an alleged malfunction led to millions of gallons of intoxicated wastewater to be dumped into Lake Michigan, which Cleveland-Cliffs failed to notify the federal authorities of for several days. This caused the closure of several public beaches, the killing of thousands of marine life, and a major cleanup mission to detoxify the lake.

The United States of America sued Cleveland-Cliffs seeking injunctive relief permanently enjoining the defendants from further violating the Clean Waters Act (CWA), Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) and Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA), civil penalties, reimbursement, disbursement, and other relief.

It was announced later in the day that they reached an agreement with Cleveland-Cliffs for $3 million dollars, as well as reimbursing the EPA and other federal agencies for the incident. The defendants will also build a new wastewater treatment plant as well as “implement a new procedure for managing and treating once-through water during emergency situations, and follow enhanced preventive maintenance, operation and sampling requirements for the facility.”