'This cannot be the new norm'

Submitted photoU.S. Steel’s Midwest plant in Portage reported a release of oil into the Burns Waterway in Portage on Friday. It marks the fourth discharge of hazardous chemicals into Burns Waterway and the East Branch of the Little Calumet River in the area in three weeks from U.S. Steel and ArcelorMittal. 

PORTAGE — A lakefront waterworks facility has shut down its intake, and water sampling continues in Burns Ditch following yet another release of chemicals into the waterway in Portage.

On Friday afternoon, “we detected a light, intermittent oil sheen at one of the outfalls at our Midwest Plant,” a statement from U.S. Steel said. “We promptly notified the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Environmental Protection Agency, National Response Center, National Park Service and U.S. Coast Guard.

While the source of the sheen has not yet been determined, we are taking containment measures and we are working with IDEM to investigate this matter further.”

It was the second release of oil from U.S. Steel’s Midwest plant in about three weeks, and the fourth overall for Burns Ditch and the East Branch of the Little Calumet River, which feed into Lake Michigan.

A statement from the city of Portage said the release appeared to originate at U.S. Steel outfall 004.

“The Mayor received a call from IDEM immediately following this action. IDEM, NRC and Indiana American Water have been notified. Samples for water testing have been taken.”

In response, Indiana American Water has temporarily shut off its Ogden Dunes inlet, according to the city’s statement.

Indiana American Water called it a precautionary move.

“As a precautionary measure, Indiana American Water shut down its Ogden Dunes treatment facility late Friday afternoon, after being notified by representatives of the Indiana Department of Environmental Management of a chemical spill into Burns Ditch at a U.S. Steel facility in Portage,” the company said in a statement.

Indiana American Water uses water from two Lake Michigan intakes – the facility at Ogden Dunes and the larger Borman Park water treatment plant in Gary.

The company “performs continuous real-time monitoring at our Ogden Dunes treatment facility, and although we have seen no impact on the raw water parameters we are monitoring for at this location or on our finished water quality, the Ogden Dunes facility will remain offline until such time as additional data and water testing results confirm there is no threat to the company’s source water at this location,” the utility said.

The Borman Park facility remains in service and “is able to provide adequate treatment capacity to meet customer needs for the company’s customers in Northwest Indiana.”

An IDEM spokesman confirmed that U.S. Steel notified the department by phone; emergency response staff responded; and the spill was contained.

A statement from Save the Dunes said the group was “thankful for the rapid response to this situation, but it is another example that something more needs to be done. This cannot be the new norm.”

The first spill at U.S. Steel was reported Aug. 20 as “a discoloration at one of the outfalls at the Midwest Plant,” but it was quickly resolved and “did not result in any risk of harm to the public or the environment,” a U.S. Steel statement said at the time.

The same day, IDEM also investigated an oil sheen at ArcelorMittal’s discharge. That came just nine days after the release of cyanide and ammonia into the Little Calumet on Aug. 11 from ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor. That spill killed an estimated 3,000 fish and closed the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore beach at the Portage Lakefront.

Indiana American Water also shut down its Ogden Dunes intake during that spill.

ArcelorMittal accepted responsibility for the spill and monitored the water at 15 locations along the Little Calumet until it found “zero to barely detectable traces of ammonia and cyanide” on Aug. 18. The beach was reopened later that week.

The company blamed a failure in its blast furnace which closed a water pumping station, leading to the spill.

A lawsuit is being filed over the ArcelorMittal spill charging violations of the Clean Water Act. Notice on intent to sue has been sent to the company by a Portage attorney representing dozens of individuals and businesses who say they were adversely impacted.

— From staff reports

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