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Indiana Dunes beaches reopen after U.S. Steel chemical spill

The National Park Service reopened beaches around a chemical spill on Lake Michigan.

The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is reopening three beaches after testing found water and beach sand samples were below laboratory reporting limits, and U.S. Steel has resuming operations at the Midwest Plant.

Last Tuesday, the National Park Service barred the public from West Beach, Cowles Bog Beach, and Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk beach in Porter County after U.S. Steel's Midwest Plant in Portage spilled the carcinogenic chemical hexavalent chromium -- which the Erin Brockovich movie raised public awareness about -- into a tributary flowing into Lake Michigan. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did extensive testing of the Burns Waterway and Lake Michigan, but did not find any hexavalent chromium impacts above its detection limit of 1 part per billion.

"Water and beach sand samples were taken by contractors working for the United States Environmental Protection Agency, from April 12 to 16, at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore’s West Beach, Cowles Bog Beach, and Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk beach," the National Park Service said in a news release. "All EPA water and beach sand samples were below laboratory reporting limits. Based on these results, the three beaches will be reopened to the public this afternoon."

The National Park Service plans to work with the EPA to establish a long-term monitoring protocol at the beaches as the busy beach season approaches. Park officials said they would work to safeguard beach-goers and remained concerned about the possibility of long-term harm to wildlife.

The EPA says it will post testing data online on its website.

U.S. Steel has been restarting its operations at the Midwest Plant, and monitoring closely to ensure no further leakage into Lake Michigan, a source of drinking water for millions in the Chicagoland area.

"Over the weekend, EPA monitored the U.S. Steel line-by-line startup process and did not detect any additional hexavalent chromium from the outfall," the EPA said in a news release. "Today, U.S. Steel resumed full operations. EPA will continue to monitor and sample the water bodies today and tomorrow."

Indiana American Water has been working with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management to reopen their Ogden Dunes drinking water intake.

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Business reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.