US Steel leaks chemical into Lake Michigan tributary


The National Park Service said it closed three beaches along the nearby Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore based on a recommendation that all beaches within 3 miles of the spill site be closed as a precaution to protect park visitors.

The EPA says preliminary data suggest hexavalent chromium from the spill is not present near drinking water intakes.

The Environmental Protection Agency says water sampling in Lake Michigan and a tributary shows no significant discharge of a potentially carcinogenic chemical from a U.S. Steel Corp. wastewater spill in northern Indiana. "We have developed a controlled and phased approach to a facility restart with extensive input from the participating government agencies", the statement said. On the other hand, there were still "detectable" levels of the chemical in Burns Waterway.

The EPA reports the leak of wastewater that contains hexavalent chromium, a toxic compound that can cause lung cancer as well as damage to the eyes, skin, nose and throat. These steps include the isolation and fix of the damaged pipe, recovery of material, and the addition of a water treatment compound, " according to the Times of Northwest Indiana.

Officials with the park and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have said the spill did not cause a fish kill, though park officials were going to continue to monitor any possible long-term effects on the park's natural resources. That's about 22 times higher than EPA's federal drinking water standard for total chromium, which includes both trivalent chromium and hexavalent chromium, is 100 parts per billion, according to the EPA's website.

The plant has sat idle since Tuesday, when the company said an expansion joint failed in a pipe, allowing wastewater to flow into the wrong treatment plant at the Portage complex.

Hexavalent chromium is the chemical which, from 1952 to 1966, Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) dumped into unlined wastewater ponds in Hinkley, Calif. PG&E did not inform local authorities of the contamination, however, until 1987. That's "a level higher than would be expected to be found in raw lake water", the department said, but just a fraction of the EPA's drinking water standard of 100 parts per billion for all forms of chromium.

Water Department Superintendent Randy Russell said he was still awaiting test results but doesn't expect any tainted samples because the chemical - soluable in water - dissipates quickly.

"Water intake results initially showed hexavalent chromium levels slightly above the detection limit", EPA said.

U.S. Steel attributed the spill to an equipment failure from the Tin and Tin Free electroplating process at the Portage plant.

In addition, USS said, "all production processes were shut down and additional steps (taken) to mitigate the impact".

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