Chesterton Tribune



DNR says Lake Michigan mystery substance may be food additives

Back To Front Page


Samples of the substance found floating in the waters off Porter Beach on Monday have been preliminarily tested by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) and found to contain food additives, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said this morning.

DNR spokesman Gene Davis told the Chesterton Tribune that IDEM’s findings are only preliminary and more comprehensive testing is being done. But the sample which IDEM took looks to be some sort of compound of an anti-caking agent used in powdered spices, tricalcium orthophosphate; an acidity regulator which is naturally occurring in fruit and honey, d’gluconic acid; and--one other thing--maple syrup.

Meanwhile, the beach at Indiana Dunes State Park (IDSP) remained closed today until the substance could be definitively identified, IDSP Property Manager Brandt Baughman said today.

Porter Beach was open but under a swimming advisory, which means that beach goers may swim if they wish to but they do so at their own risk, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore spokesman Bruce Rowe said.

The substance was first observed at Porter Beach around 12 p.m., Rowe told the Tribune, when visitors noticed that children exiting the water “had something sticky on them.”

“It looked kind of silverish gray, almost metallic, which would stick to organic matter in the water, like vegetation and swimmers,” Rowe said.

“It floated almost like an oil slick,” Rowe added, although as Porter Deputy Fire Chief Jay Craig noted, tests done at the scene quickly showed that the substance contained no hydrocarbons, so it couldn’t be oil or gasoline.

At one point, the substance was floating over an area approximately a quarter of a mile in length and by 4 p.m. had drifted from the Porter Beach area east to the waters off the Pavilion at IDSP beach, Rowe said.

Responding to the scene, in addition to the National Park Service and Porter Fire Department, were sample teams from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Porter County Environmental Department (PCED); DNR; the U.S. Coast Guard; and Porter Police.

As of deadline today, results from tests of the samples taken by the USGS and the PCED were still pending.

Craig said that “you could see discoloration in the water” from as far west as the breakwater at ArcelorMittal to IDSP and that swimmers exiting Lake Michigan “had a black discoloration on their skin.” As a precaution, the PFD worked to evacuate the water from Dune Acres to IDSP.

Today, the IDSP beach “won’t re-open until we have positive identification” of the substance, Baughman noted. “We’re going to err on the side of caution. We have no indication it’s harmful but we have no indication otherwise either.”

In any case, high waves may very well have forced the closure of the IDSP beach today anyway, Baughman added.

Those same high waves were acting to “break up” the substance and “get rid of it,” Davis observed this morning. “We sure would like to figure out who did it and stop it from happening again.”


Posted 6/18/2013