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
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.
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.”
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
“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
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
The walking trails
at Cowles Bog, however, do remain open to the public, NPS added.
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
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 &
In addition, USS
said, “all production processes were shut down and additional steps (taken)
to mitigate the impact.”
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.”
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.
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.