In Indiana, environmental groups have reached a settlement agreement with state environmental regulators and owners of the steel mill, ArcelorMittal, that will require ArcelorMittal to remove or recycle waste that has accumulated for two decades, and to test the soil underneath to see whether it has been contaminated with toxins.
The settlement came as a result of a lawsuit filed two years ago by environmental groups, including Save the Dunes, intended to push Indiana regulators to require a cleanup. The waste lies near part of the Lake Michigan shoreline and, throughout the years, has amounted to more than three million tons. It consists of a mixture from the steel mill's smoke stacks, including "basic oxygen furnace sludge," "blast furnace filter cake," and "secondary wastewater treatment plant sludge."
Environmentalists argued that even though state and federal laws prohibit long-term dumping of solid waste, Indiana regulators have known of ArcelorMittal's dumping since 1999, yet did not take any action to stop the mill from creating ever-larger above-ground piles. Environmental groups believe that Indiana regulators were too focused on pleasing business interests to do their job as public safety officials. They point to the fact that Thomas Easterly, appointed to lead Indiana's regulatory agency in 2005, was a former employee for Bethlehem Steel, ArcelorMittal's previous owners. While the groups are pleased with the settlement, they still note that Indiana ranks among the worst in the United States in air and water quality. However, they hope that the settlement will set a new standard for other businesses in the state to follow.
As this blog has previously noted, toxic waste has been linked to a variety of birth defects, including spina bifida and cleft palate. Because of toxic waste's harmful effect on human health, it is important for regulators to take their jobs seriously, investigate every violation, and impose the property penalty. If regulators do not perform their work with reasonable care, they should be held accountable. Too often, parents of children with birth defects cannot sue the source of the toxins responsible, because the toxins may come from too many diverse sources (such as cars) to hold any one responsible. However, parents may be able to hold the regulators responsible for not enforcing standards. In the case of the ArcelorMittal mill, a parent whose child was affected by the toxic waste could sue the regulators and the mill, because the mill is such an identifiable source. In fact, since the mill may have affected the health of quite a number of infants, parents might be able to come together and form a class-action lawsuit. Class-action lawsuits do not have a definite minimum size, but the generally accepted minimum is 40 people.