Chesterton Tribune

IDEM Don't expect quick response to red dust pollution

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The “fugitive” dusting of iron oxide observed in Crocker may have come from Magnetics International in Burns Harbor, the Indiana Department of Environ-mental Management (IDEM) said.

But it may just as well have come from other facilities in the area and in any case an IDEM inspector must actually see the dust crossing a company’s property line before IDEM may take enforcement action.

So IDEM spokesman Robert Elstro told the Chesterton Tribune today. Elstro said that IDEM has in fact recently taken a report from a resident complaining about iron oxide from Magnetics International. But under IDEM’s “fugitive dust” regulation, an inspector must actually be on hand to witness the dust “crossing the property line.”

“We need to visually confirm” that the dust is coming from a particular facility and is leaving the property, he said. “And there are two other companies in the area that could be the source of the dust. Without visual confirmation we can’t take action.”

There is a toll-free number for folks to call to file an environmental complaint, Elstro said: (800) 451-6027, ex 24464.

But it’s an open question whether IDEM can dispatch inspectors promptly enough to reach a site in time to witness a violation as it’s occurring. “How fast we can send someone depends on two factors,” Elstro said: “The availability of inspectors and the inspection workload.”

Long-time residents of Crocker have told the Tribune that dustings of the reddish-pinkish iron oxide are nothing unusual and that while the iron oxide is not itself harmful, it does turn water in bird baths and swimming pools red.

One resident, in an e-mail to the Tribune, noted that the powder had stained both his children’s clothes and his dog’s paws.

On Tuesday, Porter County Health Department Director Keith Letta tentatively identified the powder as iron oxide and said that Magnetics International has been the source of previous fugitive-dustings.

Whether or not Magnetics International is the source of the iron oxide which filtered into Crocker last week, the company does produce the stuff as a byproduct of acid recycling. The iron oxide is then sold for electronics applications, according to the company’s website.



Posted 3/10/2010