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Indiana Harbor Ship Canal

A view of the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal near the confined disposal facility in East Chicago.

EAST CHICAGO — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday it hopes to release a feasibility study before year's end focused on where to store the most contaminated sediments from the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has dredged an estimated 1.4 million cubic yards of sediment from the canal in recent years and placed it in a confined disposal facility at 3500 Indianapolis Blvd. in East Chicago.

In 2014, the corps submitted a risk-based Toxic Substances Control Act application to EPA and Indiana Department of Environmental Management seeking approval to store the most highly contaminated sediments at the facility, which is less than half a mile from two East Chicago schools.

The most contaminated sediments contain carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, in concentrations greater than 50 parts per million. EPA and IDEM gave notice in early 2017 they intended to approve the application.

However, after months of public pressure, the agencies announced in September 2017 they had signed a Great Lakes Legacy Act project agreement to study an option for off-site disposal and capping of "hot spots" in the canal.

Since the announcement, a project team has been preparing the feasibility study and conducting additional sampling and analysis to further delineate sediments with PCBs at concentrations greater than 50 ppm, EPA said.

EPA has been meeting periodically with community groups, a spokeswoman said.

The goal in dredging the ship canal is to prevent the sediment from flowing into Lake Michigan and to make commercial navigation more safe and efficient in the canal, the Army Corps said.

Activists have described the sediments in the ship canal as a "witches' brew" and have called for the Army Corps to conduct an environmental dredge that goes deeper than the navigational depth of 20 feet.

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Public Safety Reporter

Sarah covers crime, federal courts and breaking news for The Times. She joined the paper in 2004 after graduating from Purdue University Calumet.