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Cyanide levels dropping near large fish kill, industrial spill in Portage, ArcelorMittal says

Cyanide levels dropping near large fish kill, industrial spill in Portage, ArcelorMittal says

PORTAGE — Ammonia levels are now within permitted levels and cyanide levels continue to decrease at the site of last week's industrial spill by ArcelorMittal in the local east branch of the Little Calumet River, according to the company.

"We have been conducting daily samplings at the two impacted wastewater outfalls, and we are also conducting daily downstream samplings every quarter mile for 2.5 miles of the Little Calumet River," according to a news release from ArcelorMittal. "As a precautionary measure and in support of stakeholder requests, we have expanded our testing to include the lakeshore from Porter Beach to the westernmost extent of West Beach."

Sampling data released by the company Monday night showed that ammonia returned below the permitted level on Saturday, and cyanide returned below the permitted level on Sunday. 

ArcelorMittal also said Monday night that IDEM and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources confirmed that no stream samples conducted from the outfalls to the mouth of Lake Michigan exceeded the maximum contaminant level for the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

"We will continue to conduct daily monitoring of the sites and report to IDEM and the public as long as regulatory agencies require," the company said.

ArcelorMittal accepted responsibility Friday for the spill that killed some 3,000 fish, closed beaches, triggered precautions with drinking water and initiated the threat of a group lawsuit.

The company said the incident happened "despite having safeguards in place and conducting regular sampling in accordance with permits."

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management directed ArcelorMittal to identify the cause of the exceedances, and ArcelorMittal told IDEM that its blast furnace closed water loop station failed, according to a statement last week. Cleanup efforts were to be completed Saturday. 

The Portage Port Authority, a local marina development, and various individuals are teaming up to sue ArcelorMittal, claiming the company put people at risk, and disrupted business and recreation.

The group is filing notice of their intent to sue for violations of the Clean Water Act, attorney Thomas Dogan said.

Fish kill

A sign and yellow warning tape in Ogden Dunes announce the closing of the town's beach in the wake of the large fish kill this week along the Little Calumet River in nearby Portage.

IDEM said the company exceeded the daily maximum limit for total cyanide and ammonia-nitrogen, which "appear to be the cause or a significant contributing factor to the mortality of the fish observed on the East Arm of the Little Calumet River."

Portage Mayor John Cannon accused state environmental officials and others Friday of waiting several days before notifying the city of the contamination. He said IDEM and others were made aware of the problem Monday, but the city was not informed until Thursday.

Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, said there were no warnings for surfers to stay out of the water Thursday.

"And now they are concerned about long-term health risks of this possible exposure," Benjamin said.

IDEM said in a statement Friday that both it and the DNR investigated a report on Monday and found one "distressed" fish in the East Arm of the Little Calumet River. The agencies received more reports of dead fish on Tuesday, and on Wednesday observed a "significant" fish die off.

Then on Thursday "IDEM was notified by ArcelorMittal that they had violated the daily maximum limit for total cyanide," the statement read. "When IDEM received this information, agency staff alerted local media, environmental organizations, and local officials including Indiana American Water and the mayor of Portage."

ArcelorMittal also reported that upon learning Wednesday about the presence of oil at the nearby Port of Indiana-Burns Harbor, it deployed a containment boom and a vac truck pulled material from the waterway. A spill removal firm was brought in, which confirmed none of the oil went beyond the port into the open waters of Lake Michigan.

IDEM is awaiting the results of testing done on water samples from the area in question, Public Information Officer Barry Sneed said Friday morning.

Indiana American Water, which provides drinking water to much of the Region, said it restricted water intake at its nearby Ogden Dunes filtration plant as a precaution, but had found no sign of contamination during real-time monitoring.

Nevertheless, the National Park Service closed the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk beach area and water out to 300 feet until further notice, and the nearby town of Ogden Dunes closed its beach.

"All other national park beaches and trails remain open to the public, including trails at Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk," according to a press release from Indiana Dunes Tourism.

Lake Station resident Janice McMullen told The Times when she arrived Wednesday morning at her boat in the Marquette Yacht Club, she noticed emergency officials gathered at the nearby Sammie L. Maletta Public Marina.

McMullen said she didn't think much of it until she looked down into the water and saw a large number of fish belly up and swimming in circles.

"There are dead fish everywhere," she said Thursday morning. "They're up on shore, under the docks. I'm saying there are probably hundreds of fish."

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Porter/LaPorte County Courts and Social Justice Reporter

Bob is a 23-year veteran of The Times. He covers county government and courts in Porter County, federal courts, police news and regional issues. He also created the Vegan in the Region blog, is an Indiana University grad and lifelong region resident.

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