Environmental investigations hampered by labs, sequestration furloughs

2013-07-14T17:30:00Z 2013-07-17T13:59:04Z Environmental investigations hampered by labs, sequestration furloughsLauri Harvey Keagle lauri.keagle@nwi.com, (219) 852-4311 nwitimes.com

Findings are pending on sources of substances found floating on two local waterways. State and federal agencies cite ongoing lab analysis and reduced resources due to federal sequestration as reasons for the delays.

An investigation into an oil sheen on Cady Marsh Ditch in Lake County has dragged on for three months. A probe into a glittery film found floating on Lake Michigan in Porter and LaPorte counties is nearing its fourth week.

The oil sheen appeared April 11 on the Cady Marsh Ditch. Federal, state and local officials worked to clean up the 7-mile drainage ditch through Calumet Township, Griffith, Highland and Munster.

Officials said the amount of oil released in the waterway was minimal and quickly contained.

Oil sheens are considered violations of the Clean Water Act, which prompted the Environmental Protection Agency to take the lead in the probe.

Jacob Hassan, the EPA's on-scene coordinator, said in April the source of the oil sheen had been identified and appeared to have been accidental.

Initially, the EPA hoped to conclude its investigation in late April and determine if citations would be issued against the responsible party.

But the probe has been delayed by numerous setbacks caused in part by furlough days created by the federal sequester. Issues with disposing of the oil removed from Cady Marsh Ditch have also held up the final report, Hassan has said.

He did not elaborate on the nature of the problems with the disposal.

Hassan was not available for comment. Francisco Arcaute, EPA spokesman, said Friday he was uncertain who in the Region 5 offices in Chicago may be available to comment on the matter due to furloughs.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management's investigation of the glittery film found floating on Lake Michigan near the Porter Beach shoreline June 17 is pending as well.

Dan Goldblatt, spokesman for IDEM, initially expected lab results from the Indiana Department of Health-run State Laboratory within a few days of the incident.

But Goldblatt said he recently learned the results typically take 30 days to allow for quality-control testing.

"As best I can tell, it's just the standard timeline for these types of things," Goldblatt said.

Swimmers discovered the substance in the lake when they emerged covered in the dark, sticky, glittery film.

IDEM and U.S. Coast Guard representatives said the plume was 2 miles long and a half-mile wide, but quickly disappeared. It is unclear whether it dissipated or sank to the bottom of the lake.

Preliminary test results showed the substance to contain tricalcium orthophosphate, an anti-caking agent used as a food additive and in industrial products.

The investigation prompted swim advisories and beach closures at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore and Indiana Dunes State Park. The beaches reopened when officials determined there was no health risk associated with swimming in the waters.

The source of the material is pending further investigation.

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