Indiana residents worry chemical leak could have lasting impact

Friday, April 14, 2017
Residents worry chemical leak will have lasting impact
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There is concern that a chemical leak just yards from Lake Michigan could have a lasting impact in northwest Indiana.

OGDEN DUNES, Ind. (WLS) -- There is concern that a chemical leak just yards from Lake Michigan could have a lasting impact in northwest Indiana.

U.S. Steel said in a statement late Thursday that the source of the leak has been identified and repaired.

"Extensive testing has been, and continues to be, conducted on the repairs as well as on the water in and around the surrounding area," U.S. Steel said in the statement. "Recent sampling has indicated we are in compliance with our water permit limits."

Several beaches are shut down and it could be days before they reopen. EPA contractors collected water and sand samples Thursday afternoon while several beaches and a river walk at the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore remain closed.

"We want to see clean results there most likely for multiple days before we can consider the beaches safe to open," said Bruce Rowe, Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore.

U.S. Steel's Midwest Plant in Portage, Indiana reported on Tuesday the leak of hexavalent chromium into Burns Waterway, which discharges into Lake Michigan.

According to OSHA, the chemical can cause cancer.

"We have fishing tournaments coming into town. Are the fish going to be safe to eat?" asked Scott Lehmann, Ogden Dunes council member.

"I have a lot of concerns, health concerns. It also poses a bigger problem. There's many times I think that things get into the water that we don't even realize coming from the mills or different things," resident Randi Light said.

So far tests have not detected the chemical in Lake Michigan. But as a precautionary measure, Indiana American Water is keep their Ogden Dunes treatment plant offline and relying instead on a facility in Gary to serve customers.

"So far we haven't had a problem, but if this keeps moving to the west toward Gary which is where we get our water now, it's going to be a problem," resident Edwin Rooks said.

Natalie Johnson is the executive director of Save the Dunes. She says communication is key to calming concerns in the community.

"This also just again elevates the importance of we need these agencies. We need their help. We also need to find out what we can do to better communicate, work together, when the next big thing happens because let's face we are an industrial community," Johnson said.

The Dept. of Water Management said Chicago's water remains safe to drink, but they continue to conduct additional testing.