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Great Lakes Article:

Residents decry harbor dredging  

August 13, 2002

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. -- Plans to dredge the contamination-laced Indiana Harbor and Shipping Canal have riled nearby residents, who fear that the dredged-up muck will create a public health hazard.

Dredging of the canal, one of the Great Lakes' most contaminated sites, is scheduled to begin in 2005 and end in 2035, when an open-air site containing the dredged sediments will be capped.

Activists fear that, during the project, people will inhale sediments tainted with oil, grease, lead, chromium, ammonia and PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, a suspected carcinogen.

"Thirty years is just too long to have this open in the community," said Betty Balanoff, a Hammond environmental activist who opposes the project. "It's at least half a lifetime for many East Chicago residents."

Balanoff's group, the Committee for a Clean Environment, and the Grand Calumet Task Force both oppose parts of the project.

The residents warn that contaminants in the sediment could become airborne during dredging and containment.

The canal, which flows through a region that is home to almost 25 percent of the nation's steel mills and other heavy industrial plants, has not been dredged in 30 years.

The industries along the stretch send almost 200,000 cubic yards of polluted sediments into Lake Michigan annually.

Fully weighted ships and barges have been unable to use the canal in decades because it's too shallow, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The $247 million dredging project has been decades in the making. Preliminary construction at the holding site finally began last spring. An estimated 4.6 million cubic yards of the polluted sediments dredged from the canal will be stored at an open-air landfill.

A risk assessment completed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1995 found that any risks from the project were well within federal cleanup guidelines.

The project's emission levels are expected to be so low that it does not require an air quality permit from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

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