water pollution woes are crystal clear
By Carole Carlson
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
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
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
"Our contention is our discharge permit is too stringent
and doesnít reflect real water quality," Raykovich
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
"The system used by the EPA for determining a significant
problem is a much smaller subset. It depends on how you
do the stats."