HAMMOND, Ind. (CN) – The federal government and Indiana reached a $5 million settlement Thursday with a coal coke producer that the Environmental Protection Agency accused of releasing excessive amounts of sulfur dioxide, lead and other dangerous pollutants into the air.
The consent decree with Indiana Harbor Coke Co., SunCoke Energy and Cokenergy will require numerous facility upgrades and enhanced monitoring of the East Chicago, Ind., factory that makes coke, a solid fuel produced by heating coal that is used by steelmakers to power blast furnaces.
The companies will also pay a $5 million civil fine, which will be split evenly between Indiana and the federal government.
According to the Department of Justice, the purpose of the settlement is to reduce emissions from the factory’s “coke ovens.”
The alleged Clean Air Act violations stem from the operation of the ovens and the facility’s vent system, which federal officials say leaked dangerous pollutants into the air.
The Justice Department says the pollutants included sulfur dioxide, which is known to contribute to acid rain, and particulate matter that has been linked to decreased lung function in those exposed to it.
The coke facility also allegedly violated the acceptable amount of lead emissions.
“Today’s settlement is one example of how EPA is committed to reducing exposure to lead and other contaminants in communities across the country,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said in a statement. “Lead exposure is a serious problem and reducing it is a priority for EPA.”
The consent decree requires the companies to reduce annual coke oven emissions by 2,075 tons, including 1,895 tons of sulfur dioxide, 125 tons of particulate matter, 55 tons of organic compounds and 680 pounds of lead.
Cokenergy will also spend $250,000 to reduce lead hazards in East Chicago schools and day-care centers.
In addition, the coke factory’s ovens must be rebuilt to fix leaks and some equipment may need to be permanently shut down.
“We fight every day to protect the safety of Hoosiers and their families,” Indiana Attorney General Curtis Hill said. “This agreement goes a long way to protect Hoosiers and their families in Northwest Indiana and the East Chicago community.”
The settlement is not SunCoke’s first tangle with the federal government, as it is currently under a court-ordered settlement with the EPA in connection with two other coke-making facilities in Granite City, Ill., and Franklin Furnace, Ohio.
Those facilities were accused of emitting harmful pollutants such as sulfur and, like the Indiana facility, a dangerous amount of lead. That settlement resulted in the company paying a civil fine of $1.9 million.
Thursday’s consent decree filed in Hammond, Ind., federal court is subject to a 30-day public comment period before it can be approved by a judge.