(This piece was originally published on August 1, 2018 by the Northwest Indiana Times.)

Two organizations say they’re concerned U.S. Steel’s revised wastewater plans could fall short in preventing another toxic chemical spill at the steelmaker’s lakefront Midwest Facility.

The National Parks Conservation Association and Hoosier Environmental Council each said U.S. Steel’s revised wastewater treatment operations and maintenance manual, preventative maintenance program plan and wastewater process design lack detail and fail to spell out how employees will be instructed on spill prevention and response.

The NPCA urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Indiana Department of Environmental Management to reject U.S. Steel’s revised wastewater operations and maintenance plan and wastewater design. The association also asked that EPA and IDEM provide a comment period on any future plans submitted by the steelmaker.

“U.S. Steel has failed to make changes in response to the concerns raised by EPA and the public, which suggests U.S. Steel isn’t taking this seriously,” said Colin Deverell, Midwest program manager for the NPCA.

“That’s deeply concerning for clean water at Indiana Dunes and the neighboring communities.”

A spokeswoman for U.S. Steel declined to comment for this story. Spokeswoman Meghan Cox previously said — after EPA and IDEM’s partial disapproval of U.S. Steel’s initial wastewater plans May 30 — that “environmental stewardship is a core value” at the company.

The Department of Justice on April 2 announced a proposed consent decree requiring U.S. Steel to improve environmental protections, pay a $600,000 civil penalty and reimburse several agencies for costs associated with their response to the steelmaker’s April 11, 2017, toxic chromium spill into a Lake Michigan tributary.

The spill forced Indiana American Water to shut down its Ogden Dunes drinking water intake for several days and prompted the closure of four beaches at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and a beach in Ogden Dunes.

Groups find new plan lacking

U.S. Steel’s initial wastewater plans were released April 13, about two weeks after the consent decree was announced.

The NPCA and other organizations have said U.S. Steel’s delay in releasing the plans forced EPA and IDEM to make an 11th-hour decision to partially reject them and impeded meaningful public participation.

The comment period on the proposed consent decree ended June 6. The Department of Justice reportedly received about 2,700 comments on the proposed settlement, according to the NPCA and Hoosier Environmental Council.

In a May 30 letter, EPA issued a partial disapproval of the plans and directed U.S. Steel to include references to standard operating procedures to avoid or minimize the effects of spills, list procedures for lab and field instruments used in monitoring, provide more detail on how operational and maintenance tasks will be assigned and recorded and include information on systems components installed to date.

In supplemental comments submitted to the Department of Justice, the NPCA said U.S. Steel failed in its revised plan to include standard operating procedures, list procedures for lab and field instruments used in monitoring and provide more detail on how operational and maintenance tasks will be assigned and recorded.

“The revised plans do not address the issues raised by EPA and IDEM,” Deverell said. “The wastewater design plan doesn’t include the information related to what went wrong.”

Further, U.S. Steel hasn’t provided a plan for how employees will be trained on new protocols, he said.

Indra Frank, environmental health and water policy director for the Hoosier Environmental Council, said she’s also concerned the plans lack detail, fail to spell out how records will be kept and include no information on how employees will be trained.

“If I were an employee at U.S. Steel, with these plans, I am not sure I would know what to do in case of a spill,” she said.


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