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Beaches, Parks Closed after a Toxic Oil Spill Near Portage

— August 19, 2019

Beaches have to be closed down in the final weeks of summer due to an oil spill at a steel plant near Portage, Indiana.

Lake Michigan beaches are being closed down in the final weeks of summer due to a toxic chemical spill, according to state and federal agencies.  The spill occurred at a steel plant owned by the national company ArcelorMittal and has already resulted in hundreds of dead marine animals with fish reportedly floating up Indiana’s Little Calumet River which is near Portage.

Barb Lusco, Harbor Master at the public marina in Portage, said she started seeing a few wash up near her docks prior to the incident being reported, but the amount of floating nearby now are in the hundreds.  Portage is only a half-hour drive from the Michigan-Indiana border.

“It’s carp, it’s shad, perch, trout, bluegill, catfish.  It’s all of the fish,” she said, adding, “Anything that swims in our waterway is basically killed.”

ArcelorMittal responded, “We responded immediately and are conducting ongoing sampling in the area.”

Beaches, Parks Closed after a Toxic Oil Spill Near Portage
Photo by Clay Knight on Unsplash

ArcelorMittal’s steel plant is near the Indiana Dunes National Park, which is a popular spot for out-of-staters to vacation, especially during the warm weather months.  The spill has forced the National Park Service to close portions of beaches in the park with a representative stating, “Until the direct cause of this fish kill has been determined the impacted waters will remain closed and residents are advised to avoid eating fish in the affected areas.”

“This is the third incident in three years on the waterway,” Lusco said, adding that she and others are frustrated by the limited information being disseminated to the public and the lack of a long-term solution to curtail the issue. “People are fed up with the pollution that is going into lake Michigan.  Somebody has to protect our natural resource.”

In fact, Portage mayor John Cannon has contended state environmental officials waited several days before officially notifying his city about the spill.  He added that Portage officials “will be taking aggressive action” with the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “to ensure the breakdown of communication, like this, does not occur again.”

Posted on the City’s Municipal page on Facebook, a message to the public reads:

“The City of Portage holds ArcelorMittal responsible for this week’s chemical exposure; that resulted in excess amounts of fish mortality.  While reports show many, including IDEM, knew of the concerns as early as August 12th, 2019, the City of Portage was not informed of this concern until August 15th, 2019.  Mayor John Cannon went to the Portage Public Marina to look into the reported concerns.  Mayor Cannon spoke with IDEM on site.  Upon recent statements from ArcelorMittal, it was determined that the Little Calumet River (a tributary to Lake Michigan, at Portage, IN) was contaminated with Cyanide and Ammonia-Nitrogen levels in extreme excess, ultimately resulting in the death of hundreds of fish.  Mayor Cannon holds ArcelorMittal responsible for this event, and also parts blame to IDEM for not informing the City of Portage until several days after the first incident.  The Mayor is calling for action to be taken.  Further, the City of Portage will be taking aggressive action with the EPA to ensure the breakdown of communication, like this, does not occur again.”


Lake Michigan beaches close as chemical spill kills hundreds of fish

Officials delayed notifying Indiana city of chemical spill, mayor says

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