It’s a good thing Team Trump hasn’t yet shut down the EPA. This week’s chemical spill from U.S. Steel has shut down three beaches along Lake Michigan, and counting.
The Chicago Tribune reports:
A spill at the U.S. Steel plant in Portage [Indiana] this week leaked a toxic chemical into Burns Waterway, a Lake Michigan tributary, forcing the closure of beaches in and around the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and leaving officials scrambling to determine the extent of damage caused to the local environment.
To make matters worse, the chemical spill involves “low levels of the chemical hexavalent chromium.” Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s the same cancer-causing chemical renowned activist and litigator Erin Brockovitch found in Hinkley, Calif.’s water. Pacific Gas and Electric settled the case in 1996 for $333 million.
Sam Borries from the area’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s emergency response program found these “low levels” of hexavalent chromium in Lake Michigan. He and his crew don’t know how far the chemical spill has drifted along the shoreline, but they’re not taking any chances. They’ve taken 100 sample from east and west of where the Burns Waterway meets Lake Michigan.
The test results should come in on Thursday. In the meantime, Sam Borries assures us the chemical spill may dissipate on its own:
“It will naturally reduce and stabilize on its own as it moves down the stream.”
Still, the chemical spill happened just 100 yards from Lake Michigan.
As always, this environmental disaster happened due to the negligence of a greedy, corner-cutting corporation.
A pipe failure at the steel plant led to the contaminated water being released to the wrong wastewater treatment plant at U.S. Steel Midwest and being discharged into Burns Waterway, according to a statement from Kelley Gannon, a U.S. Steel spokeswoman. The waterway is adjacent to the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk.
Back in 2014, Freedom Industries‘ chemical spill in West Virginia’s Elk River contaminated drinking water for thousands of people. They then filed bankruptcy and left U.S. taxpayers on the hook. Luckily , although U.S. Steel’s stock price has plummeted by nearly 10 percent (as of Wednesday night), they’re much too big to disappear any time soon.
U.S. Steel found out about the leak at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday and informed the EPA’s National Response Center at 9:30 a.m. Their spokeswoman Kelley Gannon (no relation to Ganon, the villain from Legend of Zelda)
So far, three local beaches along the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park have been shut down: Cowles Bog, West Beach, and Ogden Dunes. The Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk is also closed, and the Indiana American Water Company shut down their local plant and is importing drinking water from their other plant in Gary.
Much has been made of aerial footage showing a “dark substance” spreading from the Burns Waterway into Lake Michigan, but NBC 5 Chicago reports that’s just normal sediment, not chemicals.
— NBC Chicago (@nbcchicago) April 12, 2017
But NBC ominously adds:
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns chromium six [hexavalent chromium] can lead to cancer, kidney damage, skin ulcers and permanent eye damage.
Local officials “warned residents and their pets to refrain from any contact with the water in Lake Michigan and the Burns Waterway in affected areas.” That’s right…Just as spring is finally starting to arrive, Portage’s residents can’t enjoy the water at their local parks and beaches.
This is also bound to hurt local tourism and the jobs that go with it. The U.S. National Park Service’s “Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Economic Impact Report and Recommendations” from 2012 states the site drew 1,840,513 visitors in 2011 alone. The report also found the park’s impact on jobs and the economy are massive
The analysis conducted for this report found that spending associated with the Park directly supports over 644 jobs in the area, 123 jobs inside the park, and 210 jobs in nearby communities. The direct contribution to personal income (wages and salaries) is approximately $21.56 million.
Lodging, food services, recreation, and retail trade are most directly impacted. But when you include secondary effects from the park’s payroll and from visitor spending on the economy at large, NPS states, ” the Park is responsible for the creation of almost 977 jobs and $29 million in income in Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties.
People who keep voting for Republicans who support deregulation of corporations and eviscerating the EPA may wind up learning the hard way: They pollute, we pay.
Watch:Beaches and parks close due to chemical spill at U.S. steel plant.
Featured image: Public Domain photo of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Park via Max Pixel (with sign and yellow tape added).
*This story has been edited to correct a typo, the California town is Hinkley