Cleveland-Cliffs, a Northwest Indiana steel mill, has agreed to pay $3 million in penalties, donate more than 100 acres of land for conservation and implement pollution controls following a 2019 spill of ammonia and cyanide killed thousands of fish in a Lake Michigan tributary.

According to a report in US newspaper, the Chicago Sun Times, the lawsuits were brought by government and nonprofit organizations, including Chicago’s Environmental Law and Policy Center. The spill, which took place under the plants' formed owner, steel manufacturer ArcelorMittal, reportedly killed almost 3,000 fish.

“This is a big win for protecting the Great Lakes.”

Howard Learner, ELPC executive director

“This is a big win for protecting the Great Lakes,” ELPC executive director Howard Learner said in an interview. “In addition to penalizing past bad behaviour it’s important to say, ‘Let’s make the environment better going forward.”

In addition to fines that will be split between the state of Indiana and the US Environmental Protection Agency, Cleveland-Cliffs agreed to make equipment and operational improvements aimed at avoiding future spills and also said it will conduct nearby water quality testing.

The company also consented to transfer 127 acres it owns to a land trust for future conservation uses. The land is adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Park and has an appraised value of about $2 million, according to officials.

Indiana officials previously said ArcelorMittal had failed to immediately report the toxic leaks in 2019, and Learner’s organization charged in a lawsuit that the plant had repeatedly violated the federal Clean Water Act. Under that act, ELPC along with the Indiana group filed a 'citizen enforcement' lawsuit, which helped spur the government actions.

“The amount of ammonia and cyanide discharged was greatly in excess of what was allowed.”

Howard Learner, ELPC executive director

“The amount of ammonia and cyanide discharged was greatly in excess of what was allowed,” Learner said. “We’re sending a clear message to polluters.”

Cleveland-Cliffs, which bought ArcelorMittal’s US operations in 2020, said its Indiana plant 'implemented new systems to prevent a recurrence of the event from 2019 and is committed to preserving these preventative measures.'

Source: Chicago Sun Times