A yellow labrador was boiled alive after jumping into a ditch with scalding-hot water from an illegal water discharge in Indiana.
The dog's owner sustained third-degree burns on his lower leg when he tried to save the dog. The mint farm responsible faces fines, but continued its deadly discharge Friday -- nearly a week later -- with the knowledge of state environmental officials.
An anonymous staff member at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said the handling of the case is the latest example of the continuous dismantling of Indiana's environmental enforcement, which has included rewriting enforcement guidance and canceling contracts for local air pollution monitoring in Gary and Hammond.
IDEM spokeswoman Amy Hartsock acknowledged Friday that the Materna Mint Farm in Hamlet in Starke County was discharging without a permit. But despite a multi-day investigation with the conclusion that the mint farm likely caused the scalding hot discharge, IDEM did not ask the company to stop discharging.
"My understanding is that we did conclude the discharge from the facility exceeds the limits," Hartsock told the Post-Tribune on Friday. "Our goal is to work with companies to make sure they take appropriate measures.
"We have told them they need to reduce the temperature and they need to do that as soon as possible. There are alternatives to achieve that, and we have told them to get that done. We are taking action. We want people to know we are just as concerned as they are that this matter is resolved. That's why we've been out there."
She said IDEM received a complaint over the weekend and that IDEM inspector Michael Kuss -- husband of Hala Kuss, director of IDEM's Northwest regional office in Merrillville -- investigated the facility with other compliance staff several times this week.
"We are making a referral for enforcement to take enforcement action to make sure they obtain a proper permit," she said.
On Thursday, South Bend TV station WSBT measured temperatures of water downstream from the mint farm as high as 190 degrees Fahrenheit. State law says permitted discharges can be no higher than five degrees above the air temperature -- currently around 90 degrees. The discharge caused steam to rise from the ditch.
The injuries happened when Walkerton resident Pete Daley played fetch with his yellow labrador, George, last weekend. The dog jumped into a drainage ditch near County Road 850E and Robbins Ditch Road and came out screaming. Daley got third-degree burns on his lower leg from trying to save the dog. He told media that when he pulled the dog's leg, it's hide came off. He watched the dog die 15 seconds later.
An anonymous IDEM source told the Post-Tribune that the hot discharge poses a clear threat to human health and the environment and should be considered an emergency.
"Why is this not an emergency?" the source asked, "when a dog dies and a man gets burned and there's a potential for this to happen over and over again. Talk about the aquatic life. It's already gone."
IDEM generally sends in emergency responders when an unpermitted discharge causes harm and can suggest immediate solutions, such as diluting the discharge so it doesn't pose a threat, the source said.
This case was handled by IDEM's compliance and enforcement sections, which could take months to resolve the matter, the source said.
"We can make suggestions, we can share with them some alternatives, but it's up to the company to take that action and put those measures in place, so that's what we've done ... told them to reduce the temperature and refer them to enforcement, where they will face fines," IDEM's Hartsock said.
The anonymous source said IDEM managers told the inspector not to stop the farm's discharge because it's the middle of harvest season, which runs through September or October.
A man answering the phone at Materna Mint, who wouldn't give his name, said the company has discharged water for the past 25 years, but installed a new discharge pipe this summer.
"That thing has always been there, just in different spots. It never stuck to the wall before," he said. "It's all legal."
The IDEM employee said the hot temperatures became a problem after a recent upgrade at the still when the company moved the discharge pipe.
"At some point, they upgraded all their boilers and all their processing system for higher temperatures so they could process more, quicker. What they're negligent on, they didn't consider how that would change their discharge. Now it's much hotter because of the hotter temperatures," the source said.
The man at Materna Mint said the still uses steam to extract the mint. Water is used to cool the coils and comes out scalding.
Asked if the discharge goes into the ditch that the dog fell into, the man said, "Eventually, yeah."