Chesterton Tribune



EPA: Chemical spill at USS in Portage; two beaches closed; chem not found in the lake

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West Beach and the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk site at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore were closed as a precaution on Tuesday afternoon after U.S. Steel Corporation reported the spill of a known carcinogenic chemical into the Burns Waterway in Portage.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which is responding to the incident, has identified the chemical as hexavalent chromium, “a toxic byproduct of industrial processes.”

The spill occurred within 100 yards of Lake Michigan, EPA said, but as of deadline today water sampling “does not show that the hexavalent chromium has reached Lake Michigan.”

“EPA will continue to monitor and will provide updates as needed,” EPA added.

Also--in what EPA called an “abundance of caution”--Indiana American Water Company has closed its water intake facility at Ogden Dunes, located west of the spill, and is currently using reserve water.

No beaches east of the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk site--either at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore or at Indiana Dunes State Park--have been closed.

Still, “as a precaution,” the National Park Service is urging people, along with their pets, to “have no contact with the water of Lake Michigan or Burns Waterway, in the West Beach and Portage Lakefront areas” until “more information is known.”

EPA was unable to say this morning how much of the chemical was spilled. Nor did EPA report when the spill occurred, under what circumstances, or when it received notification of the spill from U.S. Steel. EPA did say that the apparent location of the spill was at U.S. Steel’s Midwest Plant in Portage, and that the hexavalent chromium was released during a “wastewater discharge to Burns Waterway.”

U.S. Steel did not return a call this morning from the Chesterton Tribune.

According to the U.S. Occupation Safety and Health Administration, compounds of hexavalent chromium are used to “electroplate chromium onto metal parts to provide a decorative or protective coating.” Chromium metal is also added to “alloy steel to increase hardenability and corrosion resistance.”

OSHA said that hexavalent chromium “is known to cause cancer” and additionally “targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin, and eyes.”

Save the Dunes

In response to Tuesday’s incident, Save the Dunes Executive Director Natalie Johnson released this statement: “The State of Indiana’s emergency spill response actions and associated responsibilities are quite lax. While the law requires communication with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) within two hours of a spill’s discovery, it is not clear how quickly residents and property owners downstream should be reached.”

Noting that Lake Michigan is the primary source of drinking water for Northwest Indiana, and that both the IDEM and EPA are the first-responders to hazardous material spills, Johnson said that “Now is not the time to defund the U.S. EPA or to minimize the creation and strengthening of regulation. Our health and safety depend on it.”



Posted 4/12/2017




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