April 11, 2017


On Tuesday, April 11, 2017, U.S. EPA responded to a spill containing hexavalent chromium (also known as chromium-6) into Burns Waterway within 100 yards of Lake Michigan from the US Steel facility in Portage, Indiana. Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), U.S. EPA, and National Park Service staff are currently on site to mitigate and monitor for damages.

Until further notice has been provided, people and pets should avoid direct contact with Lake Michigan. Hexavalent chromium is a byproduct of industrial processes. It is known for creating reversible and irreversible skin lesions if in direct contact. A fish kill is expected to be a result of this incident. This is also the same carcinogenic chemical that appeared in the 2000 biographical film, “Erin Brockovich.”

“The state of Indiana’s emergency spill response actions and associated responsibilities are quite lax,” states Natalie Johnson, Executive Director. “While the law requires communication with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management within two hours of a spill’s discovery, it is not clear how quickly residents and property owners downstream should be reached.”

Lake Michigan is a primary source of drinking water for those living in LaPorte, Porter, and Lake counties. Regulations and agencies like IDEM and U.S. EPA safeguard residents against spills and act as the first responders when these situations arise. “Now is not the time to defund the U.S. EPA,” says Johnson, “or to minimize the creation and strengthening of regulation. Our health and safety depends on it.”

According to a recent press release, U.S. EPA is working closely with U.S. Steel and federal, state and local partners. In an abundance of caution, the nearest municipal water source, the Indiana American Water in Ogden Dunes, has shut down its water intake and will use reserve water. Also, the National Park Service has temporarily closed two beaches at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (see https://www.nps.gov/indu/index.htm for more information).

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