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Residents, activists urge tighter restrictions on air pollution at East Chicago steel plant

The steel plant Cleveland Cliffs in East Chicago, once known as ArcelorMittal, is a large brick building. This photo has the old ArcelorMittal sign still. In the foreground are trees and a highway that runs just in front of the building.
Lauren Chapman
IPB News
The air permit for Cleveland Cliffs in East Chicago, once known as ArcelorMittal, is up for renewal. Advocates say new technologies could be added to the steel plant to reduce emissions.

Northwest Indiana residents and environmental groups want the state to reduce pollution at a steel plant in East Chicago. At a meeting this week, they urged the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to update Cleveland Cliffs’ air permit, which is up for renewal.

Doreen Carey is the president of GARD — Gary Advocates for Responsible Development. She said the city of Gary borders East Chicago and both communities are overburdened with air pollution.

Carey said IDEM should be working to change that by reducing emissions from industrial companies like Cleveland Cliffs — not continuing business as usual.

“Because it's something that's been done for years and it hasn't changed and it hasn't improved. And there's technological improvements. There are measures that can be taken," she said.

Among other things, advocates at the Environmental Law and Policy Center recommend Cleveland Cliffs install burners that reduce harmful nitrogen oxide emissions, put in better monitoring systems, and shut down its sinter plants — which they say are unnecessary for production and put excess pollution into the air.

Elizabeth Palacio used to work at the steel plant as a furnace operator. At the time, she was living in Griffith.

Palacio said it’s only since moving back to East Chicago years later that she’s noticed how bad the pollution is in the city — residents often have to sweep fine dust from industrial plants like Cleveland Cliffs off of their cars and lawn furniture.

“I retired from there. Family members work there. It is our bread and butter, but I believe they can do better," she said.

Palacio said many East Chicago residents suffer from cancer and other debilitating illnesses.

Carey said advocates have asked IDEM to do a cumulative impacts analysis — which considers all of the pollution in a given area — and to make an environmental justice analysis available to the public.

Though the Environmental Protection Agency has encouraged state regulators to consider cumulative impacts and environmental justice when granting permits, IDEM has said that it can only look at a single permit and decide if it meets the rules under the Clean Air Act or not.

READ MORE: 'If not now, then when?' Gary residents seek brighter, cleaner future through Biden's EPA

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The public has until Tuesday to comment on the renewal of Cleveland Cliffs air permit. You can send comments to Kelcy Tolliver at IDEM via email at KTollive@idem.IN.govor the following mailing address:

Kelcy Tolliver
IDEM, Office of Air Quality
100 North Senate Avenue
MC 61-53 IGCN 1003
Indianapolis, Indiana 46204-2251

IDEM refused to comment or provide an interview. IDEM doesn't provide a transcript of informational public meetings.

Rebecca is our energy and environment reporter. Contact her at or follow her on Twitter at @beckythiele.

Rebecca Thiele covers statewide environment and energy issues.