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Michigan City Generating Station

NIPSCO's Michigan City Generating Station sits on Lake Michigan at the mouth of Trail Creek.

MICHIGAN CITY — The Indiana Department of Environmental Management said it has asked NIPSCO to test materials from a release of coal ash and limestone, which fell on people as they watched the city's Fourth of July fireworks near the company's lakeshore electric generating plant.

A malfunction at the Michigan City electric generating plant July 4 caused the materials to escape a stack on a scrubber unit for about 26 minutes, before the unit was temporarily shut down, according to IDEM and NIPSCO.

The material fell on people, boats and cars at the nearby marina in Washington Park during the Fourth of July fireworks show.

The scrubber was operating during the event, so some of the pollutants typically present in such material would have been removed or minimized, IDEM said.

"We won't know the makeup of the released material until NIPSCO conducts the sampling and analysis in a few weeks," IDEM said.

IDEM and NIPSCO said they were not aware of any health effects as a result of the release. IDEM plans to review the sampling and analysis conducted by NIPSCO.

"Protecting the public and the environment is vital, and it’s a responsibility we take very seriously," NIPSCO spokesman Nick Meyer said. "We are not aware of any health issues as a result of this unforeseen event, and we are proactively working with IDEM to ensure there are no additional steps needed beyond the cleanup work that was completed."

The Northwest Indiana Beyond Coal Campaign issued a statement Thursday saying the coal-burning power plant is "outdated and economically disadvantageous."

Beyond Coal is part of a national Sierra Club campaign pushing to decommission coal-fired power plants. 

"Jeopardizing the health of our regional communities is nothing new for NIPSCO," said Ashley Williams, organizer for Northwest Indiana Beyond Coal.

NIPSCO could avoid harmful spills and ongoing releases by transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy, according to the statement. 

"There's no such thing as a solar panel spill," she said. "Solar panels never douse cars, homes, boats and people with coal ash, a material known to be contaminated with lead and arsenic."

NIPSCO permanently shut down two coal-fired generators at the Bailly Generating Station in Burns Harbor recently as part of a plan to reduce its reliance on coal. The company also plans to shut down two of four coal-fired generators at the R.M. Schahfer Generating Station in Wheatfield by 2023.

In Michigan City, emissions from the July 4 release are nearly all cleaned up, NIPSCO said.

A boat cleaning company was hired to power wash the residue away, Meyer said.

"We've taken care of the boats. We've taken care of most all of the vehicles," he said.

A street sweeper went through the area Monday, followed by a vacuum truck Tuesday.

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Senior Reporter

Senior reporter Doug Ross, an award-winning writer, has been covering Northwest Indiana for more than 35 years, including more than a quarter of a century at The Times.

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.