Chesterton Tribune



Portage and Ogden Dunes beaches reopened after unknown USS discharges into Burns ditch

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Both the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Site at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and the Ogden Dunes public beach have been re-opened, after being closed on Friday, Nov. 30, following the discovery two days earlier of an unidentified substance entering Burns Waterway from a pair of U.S. Steel Corporation outfalls.

The National Park Service (NPS) said in a statement released after deadline on Tuesday that “preliminary test results”--conducted by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM)--“did not indicate any known hazardous substances in the discharge.”

“That discharge has now ended,” NPS added.

“The closure has been in effect since Nov. 30 as a precaution to protect the health and safety of park visitors until the nature of the discharge into the waterway just east of Portage Lakefront could be determined,” NPS noted. “National Lakeshore staff worked closely with IDEM and U.S. Steel during the investigation.”

The substance itself--described as “sudsy” and “frothy”--had not, however, been identified as of Tuesday afternoon, NPS spokesman Bruce Rowe told the Chesterton Tribune. IDEM’s first round of tests showed oils and greases to be in the “permitted range” and failed to show the presence of surfactants, compounds commonly used in detergents, emulsifiers, foaming agents, and dispersants.

IDEM is now conducting a second round of tests, Rowe said.

In a statement released to the Tribune on Tuesday, U.S. Steel said that it was notified of the discharge of a “foam-like substance” on Wednesday, Nov. 28. “U.S. Steel and (IDEM) jointly inspected the property and U.S. Steel notified the National Response Center,” the company said. “Samples from the site were taken and analyzed at an outside lab, where they were found to be within normal permitting limits. U.S. Steel will continue to work in collaboration with IDEM and other appropriate government entities.”

Ogden Dunes Police Det. Mike Teeling, who was the town’s point man last year when a mechanical malfunction at U.S. Steel’s Portage facility resulted in the discharge into Burns Waterway of 300 pounds of a known carcinogen, hexavalent chromium, told the Tribune that he was informed of last week’s discharge after it was observed by Susan MiHalo of The Nature Conservancy and several NPS rangers.

Teeling said that the substance--which he described as “sudsy” or “frothy”--was being discharged from a pair of U.S. Steel outfall pipes on the west side of Burns Waterway. The pipes, eight to 10 inches in diameter, are used for general drainage of the property, he said, and the northernmost one is located fairly close to Lake Michigan.

On being advised of the discharge, Teeling said that he immediately called his contacts at U.S. Steel but was unable to reach them. “They have yet to respond to my phone calls,” he said.

Although preliminary testing showed “all number readings were within normal discharge ranges”--“nothing scary,” in other words--the decision was made to close the Ogden Dunes public beach as a precaution, given the hexavalent chromium release in April 2017, Teeling said. Signage to that effect was posted and the public access points to the beach were taped closed.

On the other hand, Teeling noted, Indiana American Water Company did not close its Ogden Dunes intake pipe or its filtration plant.

In April, one year after the hexavalent chromium release, U.S. Steel and the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to a consent decree, under which the company would pay a $600,000 civil penalty and $630,000 more to reimburse various U.S. EPA and NPS for costs and damages.

That consent decree was immediately met with skepticism by environmental groups like the National Parks Conservation Association, who said that the decree lacked both transparency and teeth.



Posted 12/5/2018




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