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UPDATE: U.S. Steel says oil spill resolved, no harm done to public or environment

UPDATE: U.S. Steel says oil spill resolved, no harm done to public or environment

Fish kill

Dead fish are seen Thursday morning at the Sammie L. Maletta Public Marina in Portage.

PORTAGE — Indiana American Water has shut down one of two treatment facilities that provide water across the Region as a precaution in the wake of a chemical spill Tuesday morning into Burns Ditch at the U.S. Steel facility.

The reported spill was one of two being investigated in the waterway Tuesday by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and comes in the wake of ArcelorMittal's admission last week to dumping higher-than-permitted levels of cyanide and ammonia in the same waters.

Indiana American Water already had reduced flow to its Ogden Dunes facility in question last week in the wake of the ArcelorMittal spill, which was followed by the death of some 3,000 fish, beach closures, disruptions in business and recreation, and the threat of a group lawsuit.

"Indiana American Water performs continuous real-time monitoring at our Ogden Dunes treatment facility, and although we have seen no impact on the raw water parameters, we are monitoring for at this location or on our finished water quality, the Ogden Dunes facility will remain offline until such time as additional data and water testing results confirm there is no threat to the company’s source water at this location," the company said in a written release.

Indiana American Water said it draws Lake Michigan water from the Ogden Dunes facility and another larger facility in Gary. The Gary facility remains in service and is able to meet customer needs.

U.S. Steel reported Tuesday morning a "discoloration" in the outfall of its Midwest facility located along the Burns Waterway. The company said it immediately took samples and contacted local authorities and stakeholders.

Tuesday night, the company said samples indicated no presence of hexavalent chromium and no violations of discharge limitations. 

"This matter did not result in any risk of harm to the public or the environment and has been resolved," the company said.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management was also investigating reports of a "sheen" at the ArcelorMittal discharge in Burns Harbor.

ArcelorMittal said Monday the ammonia levels in the waterway returned below the permitted level Saturday, and cyanide returned below the permitted level Sunday.

IDEM said Tuesday it conducted sampling at 12 locations in the east arm of the Little Calumet River, as well as along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, including Ogden Dunes and West Beach.

"No detections of cyanide were found in any of the sample results," the agency said.

The release at U.S. Steel is the latest in a string of discharges from the facility, including an April 2017 spill of nearly 300 pounds of hexavalent chromium — or 584 times the daily maximum limit allowed under state permitting laws — into the Burns Waterway. 

The Surfrider Foundation and Chicago sued U.S. Steel in January 2018 for the April 2017 spill and other Clean Water Act violations. 

In November, IDEM investigated a foamy discharge from the Midwest Facility. Tests did not detect hexavalant chromium, which is a highly toxic form of chromium, and showed other pollutants were below permitted levels, the department said.

On Friday, Portage Mayor John Cannon accused state environmental officials and others of waiting several days before notifying the city of the contamination at ArcelorMittal. He said IDEM and others were made aware of the problem Aug. 12, but the city was not informed until Thursday.

IDEM said in a statement that both it and the DNR investigated a report Aug. 12 and found one "distressed" fish in the east arm of the Little Calumet River. The agencies received more reports of dead fish the following day, and on Wednesday observed a "significant" number of fish dead.

IDEM said ArcelorMittal notified the department Thursday it had violated the daily maximum limit for total cyanide.

"When IDEM received this information, agency staff alerted local media, environmental organizations, and local officials including Indiana American Water and the mayor of Portage," the department said.

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.

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.

IDEM directed ArcelorMittal to identify the cause of last week's exceedances, and ArcelorMittal told IDEM that its blast furnace closed water loop station failed, according to a statement.

Times staff writer Sarah Reese contributed to this report.