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Midwest Plant Portage

U.S. Steel said Sept. 6, 2019, it detected a light, intermittent oil sheen at one of the outfalls at its Midwest Plant in Portage. It was the second time in less than three weeks that the facility reported a release of oil.

PORTAGE — Indiana American Water's Ogden Dunes intake remained shut down Monday as a precaution following reports Friday of an oil sheen near an outfall at the U.S. Steel Midwest Plant, a spokesman said. 

The water company was waiting on sampling results expected Tuesday before placing the facility back in service, spokesman Joseph Loughmiller said.

Indiana American shut down the water intake Friday after U.S. Steel said it detected a "light, intermittent oil sheen" at one of the outfalls at its Portage plant.

U.S. Steel spokeswoman Meghan Cox said the company promptly notified local and regulatory authorities of the oil sheen Friday.

"The sheen was contained by measures enacted immediately and dissipated Friday evening," Cox said. "Testing results received (Monday) revealed that all levels were below our permitted discharge limits."

U.S. Steel is still investigating the cause of the sheen. The situation did not result in any risk of harm to the public or the environment, she said.

U.S. Steel's permit sets limits the amount of oil and grease it can discharge in its wastewater each day and also prohibits the plant from creating a nuisance on the Burns Waterway due to the color, odor, sheen or other pollutants in its wastewater.

The Burns Waterway flows into Lake Michigan, just east of Ogden Dunes.

Indiana American Water's Northwest Indiana District provides service to about 80,000 customers in Gary, Hobart, Merrillville, Chesterton, Burns Harbor, Portage, Porter, South Haven, Winfield, Shorewood Forest and White Oaks, a conservancy district in Porter County. The company also supplies water to Schererville, Crown Point, New Chicago and Ogden Dunes through wholesale contracts.

The company said its second water treatment plant in Gary remains in service and is able to provide an adequate supply for customers throughout Northwest Indiana.

The sheen Friday marked the second time since Aug. 20 that U.S. Steel reported a problem with water from an outfall at its Midwest Plant.

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In both instances, U.S. Steel worked with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, Cox said.

The company previously reported it detected "discoloration" Aug. 20. IDEM said the same day it was responding to an oil release at U.S. Steel's facility and an oil sheen in ArcelorMittal's discharge into Burns Harbor.

U.S. Steel said sampling Aug. 20 did not detect hexavalent chromium, and the incident resulted in no violations of its permit.

U.S. Steel has said it currently is operating under a proposed consent decree, which was reached after the Midwest Plant spilled nearly 300 pounds of hexavalent chromium — or 584 times the daily maximum limit allowed under state permitting laws — into the Burns Waterway in April 2017.

The Surfrider Foundation and Chicago sued U.S. Steel in January 2018 for the April 2017 spill and other Clean Water Act violations. The proposed consent decree was announced months after the lawsuits were filed.

A U.S. District Court judge in Hammond granted Surfrider Foundation and Chicago's request earlier this year to intervene in the government's consent decree case.

Surfrider attorney Robert Weinstock, of the University of Chicago Law School's Abrams Environmental Law Clinic, said there is a concern for waterways and the people who use them for recreation anytime there are reports of oil or an oil sheen.

"The fact that U.S. Steel continues to have these issues with discoloration and oil appear to violate the terms of its permit, despite the fact that it says it's operating under the terms of the proposed consent decree," he said.

The discharges raise questions about U.S. Steel's commitment to preventing further Clean Water Act violations, he said.

The consent decree has not yet been finalized, and the lawsuits filed against U.S. Steel by Surfrider Foundation and Chicago remain pending.

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