Chesterton Tribune



EPA: Still no trace of chemical in Lake Michigan; USS explains spill

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As of late Wednesday, no hexavalent chromium had been detected in the waters of Lake Michigan, although levels of the carcinogenic chemical remained elevated in Burns Waterway.

None had been detected either in the water treated and stored at Indiana American Water Company’s treatment facility in Ogden Dunes. That facility has been taken temporarily off line.

Two more beaches, however, have been closed as a precautionary measure.

Meanwhile, U.S. Steel Corporation (USS) has reported that the release of the hexavalent chromium into Burns Waterway on Tuesday morning--at an outfall located approximately 100 yards from Lake Michigan--was the result of an equipment failure at its Midwest Plant’s wastewater treatment facility in Portage.

Begin with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s most recent update, released mid-afternoon on Wednesday, when EPA reported that “a second day of intensive water sampling efforts” have so far “not detected hexavalent chromium from the spill in Lake Michigan.” On the other hand, there were still “detectable” levels of the chemical in Burns Waterway. EPA noted that overnight Tuesday levels at the outfall “were as high as 2,231 micrograms per liter.”

Although water intake sampling “initially” indicated levels of hexavalent chromium “slightly above the detection limit,” EPA said, a later confirmation run on that same sample “showed that it was at or below the detection limit,” that is, “well below EPA’s health-based standard for drinking water.”

EPA, working with the National Park Service, has identified a number of locations for ongoing water and sediment sampling along the lakeshore, both east and west of Burns Waterway. EPA said that the agency is working closely with the City of Portage, Indiana American Water Company (IAWC), and the Indiana Department of Environ-mental Management (IDEM).

EPA was expecting this morning to release another update later today.


IAWC, for its part, has confirmed what EPA reported on Wednesday, that it closed its Ogden Dunes intake line and took its treatment facility out of service after being advised of the spill on Tuesday.

The intake line is located approximately a mile and a half west of Burns Waterway.

In any case, no evidence of hexavalent chromium has been found in the treatment facility’s water supply, IAWC said. “Preliminary water sampling and analysis by an independent laboratory under the oversight of (EPA) has confirmed there was no hexavalent chromium detected in the water treated and stored by the Ogden Dunes plant.”

“The Ogden Dunes facility will remain offline until such time as additional data and water testing results confirm there is no threat to the company’s source water at this location,” IAWC added. “The Borman Park water treatment facility, located in Gary, remains in service and is able to provide treatment capacity to meet customer needs for the company’s customers in Northwest Indiana.”


Besides West Beach and the Portage Lakefront & Riverwalk site at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, two more beaches were closed on Wednesday afternoon: the Cowles Bog Beach and the Ogden Dunes municipal beach.

Of the Cowles Bog Beach closure, the National Park Service (NPS) said this: “This additional beach closure is based on a recommendation that all beaches within three miles of the discharge be closed as a precaution to protect the health of park visitors.”

The walking trails at Cowles Bog, however, do remain open to the public, NPS added.

“The affected National Lakeshore beaches and water will be independently tested and monitored to determine when they are safe to reopen,” NPS said. “When monitoring has determined the exposure risk is no longer present, (NPS) will re-open these beaches.”


After deadline on Wednesday--some 24 hours after the spill--USS released its own statement about the incident. The cause: the malfunction of a “expansion joint” which caused hexavalent chromium-contaminated rinse water to be diverted into the wrong wastewater treatment facility and from there into a Burns Waterway outfall.

That rinse water is used to treat steel strip after it’s been electroplated and is supposed to be “conveyed via pipe to a dedicated treatment plant,” USS said. But on Tuesday “an expansion joint in the rinse-water pipe failed and resulted in the water being released to a different wastewater treatment plant and ultimately (to) Burns Waterway through an outfall.”

USS has not yet determined how much of the rinse water was actually discharged.

On detection of the release, USS said, notifications were made to EPA, IDEM, NPS, IAWC, the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Response Center, and the U.S. Department of Fish & Wildlife.

In addition, USS said, “all production processes were shut down and additional steps (taken) to mitigate the impact.”

Those steps included “the isolation and repair of the damaged pipe, recovery of material, and the addition of a water treatment compound, sodium trithiocarbonate, to the wastewater treatment plant to convert and aid in the removal of hexavalent chromium.”

Hexavalent Chromium

According to the U.S. Occupation Safety and Health Administration’s website, hexavalent chromium “is known to cause cancer” and additionally “targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin, and eyes.”

Among other things, compounds of the chemical are used to “electroplate chromium onto metal parts to provide a decorative or protective coating,” OSHA noted.

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



Posted 4/13/2017




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