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A recent spill from the Portage U.S. Steel Plant into a Lake Michigan tributary has resulted in the temporary closure of the Indiana Dunes National Park and a water treatment facility. The substance appeared as an orange sheen, which has been tested and points toward being iron based.

Portage Mayor Sue Lynch said she began receiving calls at about 5:50 p.m. on Sept. 26 concerning an unknown substance pouring from a steel plant about 30 miles east of Chicago, outfalling into the Burns Waterway that feeds into Lake Michigan.

“Now it’s all the way across the width of the channel into the open area, the mouth of the ditch,” Lynch said on the evening of Sept. 26, according to U.S. News.

Ogden Dunes treatment facility was shut down by Indiana American Water and will remain closed until further sampling and testing on the spill can be done.

A statement was released by the Indiana Dunes National Park on Oct. 7th: “The National Park Service has temporarily closed the waters of Portage Lakefront in Indiana Dunes National Park due to the sighting of an ‘oily sheen’ in the waters today,” the statement read. “An investigation is under way to determine the nature and extent of the discharge.”

On Sept. 29th the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) released the following statement to the media regarding the recent discharge from the Portage U.S. Steel Plant. 

“U.S. EPA’s [Environmental Protection Agency] preliminary sample results show the reddish-orange discharge from the U.S. Steel Midwest Plant outfall was caused by high levels of iron. U.S. EPA’s preliminary sample results also currently indicate that the discharge was below the numeric effluent discharge limits contained in U.S. Steel’s NPDES permit,” said IDEM in the statement. “Results for surface water samples taken near the U.S. Steel outfall do not indicate any health risks for people who may come into direct contact with the water along the Portage River Walk.”

This statement was updated on Oct. 8: “As of yesterday afternoon, the oil that caused the sheen was no longer being discharged from the outfall at US Steel. Booms contained most of the oil, but some sheen was observed outside the boomed area. IDEM continues to investigate the cause of this incident and the potential repercussions under the recently entered consent decree and state agreed order.”

Federal and state agencies continue to investigate the matter to determine the cause of the discharge and possible Clean Water Act compliance issues, as well as environmental impacts and further actions that are necessary to ensure future compliance.

The apparent spill at the U.S. Steel Midwest plant comes weeks after a federal judge approved a revised settlement with the company, more than four years after the Portage plant discharged wastewater containing a potentially carcinogenic chemical into the Burns Waterway. 

“U.S. Steel agreed to pay a $601,242 civil penalty and more than $625,000 to reimburse various agencies for costs associated with their response in April 2017 after the plant spilled 300 pounds of hexavalent chromium —or 584 times the daily maximum limit allowed under state permitting laws,” said ABC news.

High levels of long term exposure to this chemical can lead to the development of several cancers. 

These legal actions from the 2017 spill were taken due to compliance issues with EPA standards and the Clean Water Act. It is unclear as of right now whether or not further legal actions will be taken. This story is still being developed and further information will be provided as more is uncovered.

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