Save the Dunes Statement on Burns Waterway Spill: Update

Following the release of process wastewater containing hexavalent chromium from U.S. Steel Midwest Plant on Tuesday, April 11, Save the Dunes has been diligently bringing you timely information regarding the spill. In an attempt to provide the latest information as of Friday, April 14, as well as our opinions, we would like to share the following information.

We also strongly encourage you to visit U.S. EPA’s website response.epa.gov/ussteelhexavalentchrome
for the most up to date alerts regarding the spill.

Partners Acted Swiftly & Collaboratively to Ensure Public Safety

Firstly, Save the Dunes would like to applaud the efforts of U.S. EPA, Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Steel, Indiana American Water, local municipalities and emergency responders, and more, who acted swiftly to mitigate spill impacts, close beaches as a precautionary measure, conduct sampling, and investigate the events leading up to the spill.

“It’s hard to imagine what the situation outcome would be like had it not been for the swift actions of federal, state, and local agencies and emergency managers working together, “says Natalie Johnson, Executive Director. “U.S. EPA, IDEM, National Park Service, Indiana American Water and others clearly made sure all necessary precautions were taken to protect the public and the environment following the incident.”

According to U.S. EPA & National Park Service, the first round of water sampling taken on April 12 showed no indication of hexavalent chromium impacts in Burns Waterway and Lake Michigan, including Indiana American Water’s intake. Results on sand samples are still pending. U.S. EPA, National Park Service, and U.S. Steel will continue to sample throughout the weekend at the three national lakeshore sites and at other locations outside the park.

Communication Can Always Be Improved

While necessary actions to mitigate the spill and safeguard the public were taken immediately, some local residents struggled to find current and correct information.

“Notification of these kinds of incidents and surrounding events may need to be reassessed. As a region, we can work together to improve our strategies of notification together,” says Johnson.

Save the Dunes recommends that community members talk to their local leaders and identify how emergency response information is relayed. These systems may differ from each community, and it is important to know whether local notifications are made via email, phone, text, or other. Once identified, residents should consider signing up for these methods of communication if they are available.

“Residents can continue to look to Save the Dunes for additional updates as they come. We will continue to follow-up on this incident and future investigation,” says Johnson.

What Comes Next

Beaches will remain closed until agencies gain additional & continued evidence of no hexavalent chromium detects. The National Park Service shares that: “While these three beaches remain closed, the trails at the national lakeshore’s West Beach will be reopened this weekend. Signs warning visitors to stay off the beach and out of the water will be posted at West Beach. The scheduled, ranger-led West Beach Hike on Sunday, April 16 at 1:00 p.m. will be presented.”

According to U.S. EPA, “EPA will provide oversight today as U.S. Steel restarts its operations … EPA and its partner agencies – including the National Park Service – have reviewed the U.S. Steel’s operations restart plan. EPA will observe the startup process and will closely monitor the outfall discharge. If this process goes smoothly, the company plans to gradually restart its plating lines this weekend, while neighboring beaches and water intakes remain closed.”

Once U.S. EPA responders and partnering agencies are satisfied with the status of the spill site and surrounding areas, a different section of U.S. EPA will work alongside the state to further investigate the events leading up to the incident, and take action against U.S. Steel pending investigation findings.

Agencies are committed to long-term monitoring of hexavalent chromium throughout the beach season to ensure a safe and enjoyable summer for residents and visitors.

In Closing

In a previous statement, Save the Dunes criticized Indiana’s emergency spill response actions and associated responsibilities, and we would like to clarify that we are critical of the current rules and regulation in place, and not critical of the dedicated work that our state and federal first responders do every day in order to protect the public and the environment. Save the Dunes is committed to looking to our congressional leaders for guidance in the development of strengthened regulations for industry, especially those tied to Lake Michigan, to abide by.

“In order to have a healthy Lake Michigan, Indiana dunes, and a prosperous Northwest Indiana, Save the Dunes stands behind the need for funding of federal, state, and local agencies so that they may continue to protect our way of life. We don’t want to risk any more incidents like the U.S. Steel spill. And, should something like this happen again, we want to be able to count on those agencies and entities that protect us every day.”

Links to relevant press releases below:
EPA Press Release_US Steel Chemical Spill
U. S. STEEL Press Release_US Steel Chemical Spill
INDU Press Release_US Steel Chemical Spill

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