Indiana Dunes National Park closed its beaches and a northwest Indiana water utility shut down an intake facility after an orange substance apparently spilled from a U.S. Steel plant into a Lake Michigan tributary, a mayor said.
Portage Mayor Sue Lynch said she began receiving calls about 5:50 p.m. Sunday reporting that an unknown substance had appeared in the water near the outfall of the U.S. Steel Midwest plant in Portage and then traveled toward Lake Michigan along the Burns Waterway, about 30 miles east of Chicago.
"Now it’s all the way across the width of the channel into the open area, the mouth of the ditch," Lynch said Sunday evening.
A message seeking comment from U.S. Steel was left Monday morning by The Associated Press.
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Lynch told The (Northwest Indiana) Times she wasn’t sure what the substance could be, but an employee from the Portage Marina had collected a sample for analysis.
A spokesman for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management said late Sunday that the state agency was investigating.
"A discharge of rusty colored liquid from the US Steel plant in Portage, Indiana, was reported on Sunday, September 26 at 6:30 p.m.," Indiana Dunes National Park said in a statement. "An investigation is under way to determine the nature and extent of the discharge."
Indiana Dunes National Park said it closed the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk and all of its beaches Sunday until further notice out of an abundance of caution.
Indiana American Water said it shut down its Ogden Dunes treatment facility about 9:30 p.m. Sunday, also as a precaution. Indiana American performs continuous real-time testing at the facility and had not seen any impact on “raw water parameters,” the utility said in a news release.
The Ogden Dunes plant was expected to remain offline until additional data and water sampling show there is no threat to the company’s water source.
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 (136 kilograms) of hexavalent chromium — or 584 times the daily maximum limit allowed under state permitting laws.