Chesterton Tribune



Fish kill: ArcelorMittal apologizes; Chemical levels fall; Portage Mayor rips IDEM

Back To Front Page



ArcelorMittal is apologizing and assuming unconditional responsibility for the chemical exceedances believed responsible for a significant fish-kill last week in the East Branch of the Little Calumet River.

Portage Mayor John Cannon, for his part, is blasting the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) for waiting until Thursday of last week--three full days after a distressed fish was first observed in the river--before notifying the city.

Meanwhile, the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk site in Portage remains closed, although all of the other beaches at Indiana Dunes National Park are open to the public.

Begin with a statement released Sunday evening by ArcelorMittal: “ArcelorMittal knows that we have a responsibility to all stakeholders to be a trusted user of natural resources and we sincerely apologize for falling short on this responsibility. The events of the past week at Burns Harbor have concerned us all and we have been making every effort possible to address the situation and return to compliance since we became aware of the issue. We will be working hard now and in the future to restore confidence in our ability to comply with all of our environmental requirements and restore trust among all of our stakeholders, which we understand will take time.”

On Friday, the company released a statement on the cause of the exceedances, which flowed into the East Branch of the Little Cal at its confluence with a discharge outfall immediately west of the Shadyside Mobile Home Community: the failure of a blast-furnace recirculation system. “This isolated event resulted in the release of wastewater containing elevated levels of ammonia and cyanide,” ArcelorMittal said.

The Burns Harbor facility is permitted by IDEM to discharge wastewaster containing “low amounts of ammonia and cyanide,” the company noted, but the amounts of those chemicals exceeded by unspecified amounts the applicable limits. “We promptly reported these exceedances to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management in accordance with our permit requirements,” ArcelorMittal said.

The recirculation system has since been repaired “and normal operations have resumed,” the company said.

On Sunday, ArcelorMittal enumerated its ongoing efforts “to return to compliance and restore trust”:

--The company has been working closely with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, IDEM, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources, and the U.S. Coast Guard “throughout the weekend.”

--The company has been conducting daily water sampling at two impacted wastewater outfalls as well as daily downstream sampling every quarter mile for 2.5 miles of the Little Cal. “As a precautionary measure and in support of stakeholder requests, we have expanded our testing to include the lakeshore from Porter Beach to the westernmost extent of West Beach,” ArcelorMittal said.

--“While we are still awaiting official results from the previous day’s sampling events, we can confirm that the most recently available data show that ammonia is now within permitted levels and cyanide levels have been decreasing daily and currently are below the levels experienced during the initial release,” the company said. “Unfortunately, these are not real-time results, as there is an inherent delay in processing daily tests by a third-party analytical lab. However, the constituents of concern have demonstrated a pattern of daily improvement since Thursday.”

--“We are committed to keeping all stakeholders informed through the process,” the company added. “We will be sharing data form sampling locations on our website as soon as they are confirmed by the regulatory agencies.”

IDEM and Portage

IDEM released a statement of its own on Friday, in which the agency provided a time-line of events:

--On Monday, Aug. 12, DNR received a citizen’s complaint of “one distressed fish.” IDEM and DNR both responded and investigated.

--On Tuesday, Aug. 13, additional reports were received “identifying the presence of numerous dead fish” in the Little Cal.

--On Wednesday, Aug. 14, IDEM and DNR “conducted a reconnaissance” and “observed that a significant fish die-off had occurred.” At that time the cause was unknown, IDEM said, but “in the course of investigating potential sources IDEM learned that ArcelorMittal violated its daily maximum limits of ammonia-nitrogen.”

--On Thursday, Aug. 15, ArcelorMittal notified IDEM that the company had also violated the daily maximum limit for total cyanide. “When IDEM received this information, agency staff alerted local media, environmental organizations, and local officials including American Indiana Water and the Mayor of Portage,” IDEM said. “In addition, IDEM notified ArcelorMittal that they were responsible for initiating a spill response to include in-stream monitoring and increased monitoring of its outfalls to the Little Calumet River.”

Portage Mayor John Cannon, however, wants to know why IDEM waited until Thursday to notify the city, when the evidence was clear two days earlier, on Tuesday, that a significant fish-kill had occurred at the Marquette Yacht Club and the Sammie L. Maletta Public Marina, both in Portage. As the Associated Press quoted Cannon on Friday, “The Mayor is calling for action to be taken. Further, the City of Portage will be taking aggressive action with the EPA to ensure the breakdown of communication, like this, does not occur again.”

On Friday the AP also quoted a Lake Station resident, Janice McMullen, who was at the scene of the fish-kill at the Marquette Yacht Club: “There are dead fish everywhere. They’re up on the shore, under the docks. I’m saying there are probably hundreds of fish.”

Drinking Water/Beaches

On Friday, Indiana American Water Company spokesman Joe Loughmiller told the Chesterton Tribune that testing at its Ogden Dunes pumping/treatment station had revealed no impact of the exceedances on its raw water parameters. Nevertheless, the company has reduced flow through that station and continues to monitor.

Both Ogden Dunes Beach and the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk site at Indiana Dunes National Park remain closed to the public. The National Park Service, though, is reminding residents that no other beaches in the National Park were impacted by the exceedances and are open: West Beach, Porter, Kemil, Dunbar, Lakeview, Central Ave., and Mt. Baldy.

NPS has also closed the East Branch of the Little Calumet River between Ind. 149 and Ind. 249.



Posted 8/19/2019




Search This Site:

Custom Search