PORTAGE, Ind. — A U.S. Steel plant in northern Indiana spilled nearly 600 times the amount allowed of a potentially carcinogenic chemical into a Lake Michigan tributary last month, and the company has committed to testing lake water on a weekly basis to ensure it is safe through the swimming season, authorities said.
The (Northwest Indiana) Times reported documents from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management show that the plant spilled nearly 300 pounds of hexavalent chromium into the Burns Waterway on April 11 and April 12. That was more than 580 times the daily maximum limit allowed under state law. The department says a multi-agency investigation is ongoing.
A spokesperson with the Environmental Protection Agency said U.S. Steel must take part in long-term water monitoring for hexavalent chromium. The agency has reviewed and approved US Steel’s monitoring plan and the National Park Service will oversee the monitoring. The plan also requires an independent third-party laboratory to conduct sampling once a week at four beaches during the May 29 through Sept. 4 swimming season, documents show.
The chemical spill sparked outrage from environmental groups against the backdrop of massive budget cuts that have been proposed for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and at the EPA under President Trump.
The company’s major industrial spill “illustrates the need we have for a robust EPA to prevent and respond to situations like this,” said Cindy Skrukrud, Clean Water program director for Sierra Club Illinois.
The spill forced a temporary closure of several beaches and Indiana American Water’s intake in Ogden Dunes. They were reopened April 17, after EPA water samples failed to uncover the chemical.
Bruce Rowe, spokesman for the National Parks Service, said the agency is “encouraged that there has been no detectable amount of the material found in the waters or on the beaches at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. We are looking forward to a normal beach season this summer.”
Lake Michigan is the main source of drinking water for many residents of Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties.