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The Land I Use: Hazardous Waste Wells On The Southern Shores

[ IDEM’s ] site description of ArcelorMittal

via [ Post-Trib ] “Toxic disposal talk gets deep – Underground injection a matter of trust” By Gitte Laasby

PORTAGE — When federal officials allow companies to inject hazardous waste deep into the ground, they take the companies’ word for what kind of waste is disposed and that it isn’t leaking, a federal official admitted Wednesday night.

ArcelorMittal wants to add a new underground injection well at its Burns Harbor plant to dispose of hazardous waste for the next 10 years. The company also wants to continue to use three existing wells, where it disposes of millions of gallons of hazardous waste annually from ArcelorMittal plants.

Issues:

  1. What obligations does ArcelorMittal have towards future land uses of this highly valuable and ecologically sensitive property on the southern shores of Lake Michigan, a few steps away from the Indiana Dunes National Shoreline and the Little Calumet River?
  2. Is this not the perfect situation for exercising the “Precautionary Principle?”
  3. Does this not serve as an example of the extraordinary where-with-all of vested interests against the humble capacity of a public trying to ensure they live in a safe and vital community?

[ EPA Fact sheet and Public Notice – pdf ]

(Sometimes these maps need a little clarifying. The Deep wells are only a few steps away from the Indiana Dunes National Shoreline and the Little Calumet Rivers. One of the most bio-sensitive and diverse areas in the country, and one of the most impaired.)

“ArcelorMittal has three injection wells operating at 250 W. U.S. Highway 12 in Burns Harbor. These wells inject waste from a steelmaking process known as “steel pickling” and waste ammonia liquor, a product of cokemaking.”

Stephen Roy, a geologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said EPA has “good reason” to believe the spent pickle liquor and waste ammonia liquor that ArcelorMittal intends to inject into the ground will stay where it’s injected — at a depth between 0.5 and 0.8 miles below ground surface — for the next 10,000 years.

Roy said a lot of time and effort goes into demonstrating that the injection wells are safe. But he acknowledged deep wells are a disposal method that makes it difficult for EPA to check on companies’ claims about what waste they’re injecting and whether there are any leaks.

“They’re required to send us monitoring reports. They’re required to do it continuously, but there is a lot of trust. The reality is, we rely on the companies and the labs that do their analysis,” he said. “We are aware that contamination could be going on that no one has detected.”

Portage Township resident Joe Lopez raised that concern Wednesday night, when he was the only person who voiced his opinion at EPA’s public hearing on the wells. He said he recalled hearing about a well at Midwest Steel that leaked in the 1990s. Traces were found in Michigan within five years of the well being drilled, he said.

“When they said this stuff can only go so far from the well, how can I say that’s right when we found traces of this in Michigan?” said Lopez, who retired from Midwest Steel. “We have streams, apparently they carried it over there. Why can’t they find other solutions? We’re going to poison our water and ground here.”

Roy said he hadn’t heard about any instances of contamination from deep injection wells, including the one Lopez mentioned, but that the agency has examined every rumor brought to its attention.

“It doesn’t jive with anything I’m aware of,” Roy said. “I don’t understand how it would be found.”

Another resident asked Roy after the meeting whether EPA makes unannounced visits to inspect companies and their use of underground injection wells.

“We can do unannounced visits, but I’ll be honest with you, we rarely do that,” Roy said.

Lopez also wondered why EPA doesn’t require companies to find a different disposal method. Roy said federal law allows underground injection wells under certain circumstances.

“We serve at the will of Congress,” he said. “The Safe Drinking Water Act and the Resources Conservation and Recovery Act allow this way to dispose of waste.”

People can comment on the proposed permit and the ones up for renewal until April 7.

Categories: The Land I Use
  1. March 30th, 2010 at 16:25 | #1

    The notion of hazardous waste being injected into the ground is just nauseating. I mean, it sounds like the kind of disastrous ‘problem solving’ that seems more and more routine: ‘solve’ a problem by making it potentially far, far worse – but less visible.

  2. April 4th, 2010 at 04:10 | #2

    I’m not trusting the government or the experts or the corporations for sure, or the media on this. I think the idea of injecting pollution underground is patently crazy. It would only be considered in a society that seems to have given up finding ways to adapt to circular ways of using resources. It’s a more sophisticated version of pitching the slop bucket out the window, and that very sophistication can actually make it even more dangerous.

  3. April 4th, 2010 at 04:10 | #3

    The only reason this kind of stuff gets by is that we are used to a way of looking at the world that doesn’t imagine any plausible alternative to more and more sophisticated forms (or not) of pitching the slop bucket out the window.

  4. Thomas Frank
    April 4th, 2010 at 13:29 | #4

    @paul kane There are a few books you may already know about.

    – William McDonough’s book “Cradle to Cradle.” In it advocates for designing for multiple life cycles. This idea started to take off in industrial design programs in the 1990s. We are only beginning to see some of these efforts come to the market.

    -Amory Lovin’s book “Natural Capitalism”: Lovins has been on a campaign to reduce our reliance on Oil. (http://www.rmi.org/rmi/)

    – John Elkington’s book “Cannibals with Forks: Triple Bottom Line of the 21st Century Business”

  5. Kristin
    April 22nd, 2010 at 03:38 | #5

    I really like this graphic. The flow from top to bottom works really well and pulls me into the information in the text. I love the way the circle (the well) works with the wave lines of Lake Michigan and pulls the eye down to and through the well to the dispersed toxins and the huge 250 million gallons. This one is really really good.

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