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Great Lakes Article:

Indianaís water pollution woes are crystal clear
By Carole Carlson
The Post-Tribune
03/31/04

East Chicagoís municipal sanitary treatment plant led the state in water pollution permit violations, according to a report released today called "Troubled Waters."

Compiled by the Public Interest Research Group, a not-for-profit environmental advocacy group, the report analyzed data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which monitors compliance with the Clean Water Act.

The PIRG reportís data, which spanned an 18-month period from Jan. 1, 2002, to June 30, 2003, said East Chicagoís plant exceeded

discharge limits 56 times into the Grand Calumet River into Lake Michigan. The most numerous of the pollutants discharged were sulfates and chlorides. In addition, there were one-day discharges of cadmium and chromium, considered more dangerous heavy metal pollutants.

The report also listed municipal treatments plants in Hammond, Gary, Chesterton, Crown Point, Lowell, Michigan City, Portage, South Haven and Valparaiso for exceeding permit standards.

Companies with permit violations were the BP refinery in Whiting, ISG Burns Harbor and Indiana Harbor, Ispat Inland in East Chicago, NIPSCO generating stations in Gary, Michigan City and Wheatfield, and U.S. Steel in Gary and Portage.

The report said U.S. Steelís Gary Works discharged cyanide on 16 different days during the 18-month period. Cyanide is a byproduct from metal processing in coke plants.

Leise Jones, PIRGís Midwest field director, said the report lists Indiana as one of 10 states that allowed the most exceedances of Clean Water Act permit limits.

"The problem is a lack of funding," Jones said of Indianaís state government. "Itís hard for (the Indiana Department of Environmental Management) to enforce laws when theyíre faced with budget cuts. They need to put more environmental cops on the beat."

Tim Raykovich, special assistant to East Chicago Mayor Robert Pastrick and the cityís health commissioner, said the treatment plant has no control over surface runoff sediments such as chlorides and sulfates.

"The bottom line is I canít say anything is innocuous. You donít want to be discharging chloride or sulfates, but chromium and cadmium are bad actors. The heavy metals donít get broken down. You donít want to put them in the water, but taken in the context of all polluters, weíre not that bad."

Cadmium can cause neurological damage and blood-cell production. Chromium, another plating byproduct, can be a carcinogen in certain cases.

Raykovich said despite the number of violations, East Chicagoís treatment plant has improved the quality of its discharge into the environment. As an example, he said there are salmon spawning once again in the Grand Calumet River.

"Our contention is our discharge permit is too stringent and doesnít reflect real water quality," Raykovich said.

Charlotte Read of the Save the Dunes Council in Michigan City, said industries and treatment plants need new equipment to get into compliance, but improvements are expensive.

"This is another depressing study that we should learn from and the Bush administration should strengthen the Clean Water Act," Read said.

Tim Method of IDEM downplayed the reportís findings.

"Itís a very oversimplified report, you can read a lot into it," Method said.

Method said Indiana follows the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyís process for determining significant water quality problems.

"The system used by the EPA for determining a significant problem is a much smaller subset. It depends on how you do the stats."

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