US Steel Pollution Poisons Lake Michigan Surfers

In 2017, US Steel caused the pollution of nearly 350 pounds of chromium in Lake Michigan, threatening the freshwater plants & animals in the ecosystem. Over 85% of the spill contained hexavalent chromium, the toxic chemical featured in the movie "Erin Brockovich."

kealoha founder surfing in lake michigan near us steel
KeAloha co-founder Kai Cromwell surfing near US Steel
[photo by Bruce Donaldson]


As a result, several nearby towns shut off their drinking water and the National Park Service closed beaches to protect residents. Months later, Surfrider Foundation filed a lawsuit against US Steel which resulted in a $1.2 million settlement for penalties and damages. Since 2017, three more spills have occurred at the same plant, all of which threaten both Lake Michigan surfers and wildlife.


Lake Michigan seems like an unlikely place to surf. But the growing surf community is a dedicated bunch, sometimes driving several hours in the middle of winter just to score a few waves. Unfortunately, the pollution incident involving US Steel prevented surfers in southern Lake Michigan from entering the water. The plant is located near several popular beaches, all of which were closed for safety reasons. Many surfers said they could smell oil on the water surface. And a few unlucky surfers even developed skin rashes, and opted to join the lawsuit with Surfrider.


The Great Lakes are the largest freshwater system in the world, with more coastline than the east and west coast of the United States combined. But despite being landlocked, the surf community is constantly stoking. These surfers often brave freezing temperatures and gusting winds to chase swells. During the fall and spring months, air and water temperatures hover between the 40s and 60s. But in the winter months, when the waves are at their best, surfers must wear full body wetsuits as the water temperature plummets and air temperatures dip below zero. You might think that these surfers are crazy for even attempting to surf in such cold temperatures, but they love it! 

The penalties against US Steel were essentially a slap on the wrist. The steel industry has been known to harm the environment with their use of fossil fuels and high emissions. And in Lake Michigan, the presence of US Steel poses an even greater threat to humans and organisms alike.

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published