US Steel leaks chemical into Lake Michigan tributary

Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Lake Michigan at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

A water sample from Lake Michigan near a wastewater spill at a U.S. Steel plant in IN contained an elevated level of a potentially carcinogenic chemical but well below federal safety standards, the Chicago Department of Water Management said Thursday.

So far, the United States Environmental Protection Agency reports no evidence any of the chemical, a toxic byproduct of industrial processes, has been found in the lake. As a precaution, it is advising people and pets to avoid contact with the water.

Indiana American Water, which operates a water treatment plant at nearby Ogden Dunes that draws water from the lake about two miles from Burns Waterway, temporarily shuttered that plant following the spill, and is instead tapping water reserves.

On Wednesday, the park service also closed Cowles Bog Beach, though trails at Cowles Bog remain open. It's not known how much has been spilled.

The utility said Wednesday that preliminary water testing by an independent laboratory under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's oversight has detected no hexavalent chromium in the water treated and stored by its plant.

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. Federal officials are awaiting more test results to determine whether a potentially carcinogenic chemical entered Lake Michigan during a wastewater spill at a U.S. Steel plant in northern Indiana.

That wastewater eventually flowed into the Burns Waterway, a lake tributary, at a point about 100 yards from Lake Michigan, the EPA said.

In any case, no evidence of hexavalent chromium has been found in the treatment facility's water supply, IAWC said.

"We continue to sample and monitor and consult with the EPA, IDEM and others to assess and evaluate the situation, but (there is) no prediction as of now on a date for bringing it back online", Joe Loughmiller, external affairs manager for the water utility, said in an email.

"What we are going to look at is multiple days of clean results before we reopen", said Bruce Rowe, supervisory park ranger and public information officer with the national lakeshore, adding the park is working with the EPA to establish that timeframe.

U.S. Steel has said its release of the chemical was stopped at the source.

U.S. Steel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The company said Wednesday its preliminary investigation shows an expansion joint failed in that pipe Tuesday at its Portage, Indiana, plant.

In the meantime, the company's Borman Park water intake in Gary will be able to provide adequate capacity to meet demand for customers in Northwest Indiana, according to a statement. "If a risky material like (hexavalent chromium) can be released into our drinking water, then the regulations are either too weak or not enforced".

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