By Michael Hawthorne

U.S. Steel agreed Monday to pay nearly $900,000 to settle a complaint filed after one of the company’s plants spilled toxic chromium into a Lake Michigan tributary last year.

The Pittsburgh-based company also will begin testing daily for the most toxic form of chromium in water near its Midwest Plant in northwest Indiana, embark on a preventive maintenance program and upgrade other types of pollution monitoring in response to legal action taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Lawyers for the two government agencies began negotiating privately with U.S. Steel after the Surfrider Foundation, a nonprofit group representing Great Lakes surfers, enlisted the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago to research pollution violations at U.S. Steel and other factories on the southern shore of Lake Michigan.

A review of state records by law students at the clinic revealed that the Midwest Plant violated chromium limits at least four times since 2013. Two other spills were reported to Indiana officials last year, including one in October that the company asked Indiana regulators to keep secret.

Two months later, the state agency posted an inspection report online that showed U.S. Steel had failed to test for hexavalent chromium after the October spill, despite blue liquid “with visible solids” pouring out of a sewer pipe into the Lake Michigan tributary.

Mark Templeton, the law clinic’s director, said he was still reviewing the deal brokered by government lawyers and U.S. Steel. “We’re encouraged regulators are finally doing something,” Templeton said in an email.

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Areas of Focus: Environment
Definition
Environment
Producing and using energy damages people’s health and the environment. EPIC research is quantifying the social costs of energy choices and uncovering policies that help protect health while facilitating growth.
Environmental Health
Definition
Environmental Health
Energy and industrial processes introduce toxins into the environment. EPIC research is helping to educate policymakers and consumers on the social and economic costs of this pollution, and the potential...
Abrams Environmental Law Clinic
Definition
Abrams Environmental Law Clinic
The Abrams Environmental Law Clinic attempts to solve some of the most pressing environmental problems throughout Chicago, the State of Illinois, and the Great Lakes region.