Chesterton Tribune



Chicago testing finds chemical at low levels in lake

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The Chicago Department of Water Management, conducting its own water sampling, has detected an elevated--but apparently not dangerous--level of hexavalent chromium in Lake Michigan, two days after a mechanical malfunction at U.S. Steel Corporation’s Midwest Plant caused an unknown quantity of the carcinogenic chemical to be released into Burns Waterway.

Even so, as of Thursday, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said that it had no reason yet to believe that there is any hexavalent chromium present in Lake Michigan near drinking water intakes.

EPA was, however, still awaiting the results of 100 water samples taken on Wednesday and another 100 taken on Thursday. EPA expected to begin receiving the results of that sampling today.

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is blasting U.S. Steel for its “reckless conduct”; and the Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League is calling for responding government agencies to be “transparent in dealing” with the spill.

Lake Michigan Sampling

After deadline on Thursday, the Chicago Department of Water Management (CDWM) reported that a water sample taken in Lake Michigan approximately one mile north of Burns Waterway contained hexavalent chromium at a level of 2 parts per billion, that is, “a level higher than would be expected in raw lake water.”

The EPA’s drinking water standard for total chromium--including hexavalent chromium--is many times higher, however: 100 parts per billion.

Another sample taken by CDWM contained hexavalent chromium at a level of 1.6 parts per billion but 10 other samples taken in the same area of Lake Michigan contained levels no higher than 0.21 parts per billion.


Also after deadline on Thursday, EPA reported that “preliminary data suggest that hexavalent chromium from the spill is not present near drinking water intakes.”

Nevertheless, EPA added, Indiana American Water Company’s water treatment facility in Ogden Dunes--located roughly a mile and a half west of Burns Waterway--will remain offline at least until Monday.

EPA said that it would release the results of 100 samples taken on Wednesday and a further 100 on Thursday as soon as they became available, probably sometime today.


Three beaches at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore remain closed until further notice: West Beach, the Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk site, and Cowles Bog Beach near Dune Acres.

The Ogden Dunes municipal beach also remains closed.

U.S. Steel

On Thursday, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on U.S. Steel (USS) to account for Tuesday morning’s spill.

“The fact that these dangerous chemicals have not reached Chicago’s water supply is simply due to good luck, and not good actions by U.S. Steel,” he said. “We cannot and will not tolerate careless conduct by companies that would threaten the health and safety of our residents.”

“U.S. Steel must immediately explain how they allowed a dangerous chemical into a Lake Michigan tributary where it could harm millions of people in Indiana and Illinois, and what they are doing to ensure this never happens again,” Emanuel added. “At the same time, this incident is a warning to us all that if the Trump Administration’s plan to cripple the EPA is enacted, there will be no one left to protect residents from bad actors like U.S. Steel.”

USS, for its own part, is eyeing a restart of its Midwest Plant, which was taken offline on Tuesday. “U.S. Steel has identified the source of the process release that occurred April 11 at our Midwest Plant and has made the necessary repairs,” the company said in statement released after deadline on Thursday. “Extensive testing has been, and continues to be, conducted on the repairs as well as on the water in and around the surrounding area.”

“Recent sampling has indicated we are in compliance with our water permit limits,” USS also said. “In addition, we continue to work cooperatively with the appropriate agencies and entities. We are reviewing a potential restart plan to best serve our customers, employees, and the community.”

USS has said that the spill occurred when, following a pipe failure, rinse water used in the electroplating process was inadvertently diverted into a general purpose wastewater treatment facility--not the dedicated one for rinse water--and ultimately into Burns Waterway by way of an outfall.

Izaak Walton

The Porter County Chapter of the Izaak Walton League issued a statement of its own after deadline on Thursday. The thrust of it: the public needs to be “vigilant” and responding government agencies “transparent” in their dealing with the spill.

“How does such a dangerous chemical get spilled into our water?” asked Chapter President Jim Sweeney. “To me this indicates multiple failures. If a dangerous material like (hexavalent chromium) can be released into our drinking water, then the regulations are either too weak or not enforced.”

Lake Michigan, he added, is not simply the source of Northwest Indiana’s drinking water. It’s also heavily used for boating and fishing. “We were founded by 54 anglers in 1992,” Sweeney said. “This kind of accident should not be happening in 2017.”

Sweeney also warned the public about the dangers of cutting the budgets of government regulatory agencies like EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. “These agencies are here to protect us from pollution and they have to be funded in order to be effective,” he said. “We don’t want to see more incidents like this.”

Hexavalent Chromium

OSHA has identified hexavalent chromium as a known carcinogen which also targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin, and eyes.

It was the chemical which, from 1952 to 1966, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) dumped into unlined wastewater ponds in Hinkley, Calif. PG&E did not inform local authorities of the contamination until 1987, however. The subsequent legal action against the utility--dramatized in the film Erin Brockovich--resulted in a $333-million settlement.



Posted 4/14/2017




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