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.
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
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.
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.”
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
The Ogden Dunes
municipal beach also remains closed.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel called on U.S. Steel (USS) to account for Tuesday
“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.”
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.
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
“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
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.”
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