Dearborn steel mill had to spend $100M after air pollution violation

Cleveland-Cliffs Steel Corp. spent more than $100 million overhauling the air pollution control system at its Dearborn facility after state and federal regulators found the facility had been violating the Clean Air Act and releasing too much lead, manganese and visible emissions.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Justice announced Thursday they were modifying a pollution-control consent decree struck in 2015 between the federal government, state government and AK Steel, which Cleveland-Cliffs acquired in 2020. Roller Raymond Mill

"The agreement will ensure that Cleveland-Cliffs' steel manufacturing plant in Dearborn operates in compliance with federal and state air pollution requirements," said Assistant Attorney General Todd Kim of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "This modification will result in better air quality for Dearborn residents around the plant, who have been disproportionately burdened by pollution."

EGLE Director Phil Roos applauded the modified consent decree. The Dearborn steel plant is in an "environmental justice" area, meaning its residents are disproportionately impacted by pollution and are vulnerable because of things such as high rates of poverty or health issues.

The state environmental agency said in a statement that the Cleveland-Cliffs plant "has a history of noncompliance."

"These requirements will help ensure that the facility meets its obligations to the community, and that residents are better protected from the facility's air emissions," Roos said.

Cleveland-Cliffs' Dearborn Works facility makes carbon steel for the automotive industry and others. Its major production facilities include a blast furnace, basic oxygen furnaces, metallurgy furnaces and more. It has 1,290 employees on its 350-acre campus, which was previously known as the Rouge Steel plant.

The air emissions issues date back to before Cleveland-Cliffs acquired AK Steel in 2020, company spokesperson Patricia Persico said.

Under the agreement, Cleveland-Cliffs replaced the Dearborn plant’s electrostatic precipitator, which removes particulate matter from exhaust gases and controls visible emissions. That work was completed in March, Persico said.

"This Consent Decree dates back to when AK Steel was the owner and operator of the Dearborn facility," Persico said. "Under Cleveland-Cliffs ownership and stewardship, the company proactively worked to rebuild the pollution control devices."

Under the consent decree, Cleveland-Cliffs also must test the device to ensure it's meeting emissions standards for lead and manganese, according to the EPA.

Breathing lead and manganese is dangerous, the EPA said Thursday. They can impact the nervous system. Lead air pollution also is linked to problems with kidney function, immunity, cardiovascular, reproductive and developmental systems.

Cleveland-Cliffs already has performed much of the work required under the modified consent decree, the EPA said Thursday.

The company also will pay a fine of $81,380 to the state of Michigan's general fund and will spend at least $244,000 purchasing portable home air purifiers for each residence in a south Dearborn neighborhood.

“Collaborating with residents on the supplemental environmental project was very important to our group,” said Samra’a Luqman, board member of the Concerned Residents of South Dearborn. “We know that having these filters in residents’ homes will make their indoor air quality better and that was a vital part of this project.”

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The modified consent decree is open for a 30-day comment period. To submit a comment, email or write to Assistant Attorney General, Assistant Attorney General, U.S. DOJ-ENRD, P.O. Box 7611, Washington, DC 20044-7611.

Questions about the consent decree can be sent to EGLE inspector Katie Koster at 313-418-0715 or

Limestone Mill The EPA will host a virtual public meeting about the consent decree at 6 p.m. on Nov. 8. To join, log on to or call in at 636-651-3142, using the conference code 374288.