Little Calumet River
Little Calumet River
Watersheds in Indiana deposited massive amounts of toxic chemicals into the Great Lakes region in 2020, according to a report released Tuesday by Environment America Research and Policy Center.

The Little Calumet River is ranked sixth of the top 20 watersheds in the United States for releasing chemicals known to cause cancer and have negative reproductive effects, the report said.

The report uses numbers from the Toxic Release Inventory, a collection of data on the release of toxic substances in waterways from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The industries with the largest releases of cancer-causing chemicals in 2020 were paper, pulp and paperboard mills, according to the report.

The 6,585 pounds of reproductive toxins in the Little Calumet River contribute to Indiana's rank as the state with the second largest amount of reproductive toxins released.

The 29,691 pounds of cancer-causing chemicals from the Little Calumet River make up part of the 52,207 pounds of toxic watershed released in Indiana. The remainder is released from the Middle Wabash River and the Ohio River. Indiana has the sixth-largest amount of cancer-causing chemical releases in the U.S.

Sean Hoffmann, federal legislative advocate at Environment America Research and Policy Center, said the solution lies in more strict enforcement of laws by the government to protect waterways from toxic chemicals.

"Our nation should reduce the use of toxic chemicals, update pollution control standards and strengthen clean water act protections and enforcement," Hoffmann said.

The Little Calumet River connects to the Calumet River system, which flows into Lake Michigan and connects to the Great Lakes. The river system has a history of pollution from the industrial sectors in Northwest Indiana.

In 2019, ArcelorMittal’s Burns Harbor facility spilled cyanide into the Little Calumet River and killed 3,000 fish and closed beaches on Lake Michigan, prompting an investigation and a lawsuit.

While ArcelorMittal reported cyanide levels decreased soon after the spill, industrial companies in the Region still contribute to major pollution. According to the TRI, U.S. Steel Works in Gary released 70,642,388 pounds of toxic chemicals into waterways in 2020.

Companies self-report these numbers to the EPA each year, according to the TRI. The numbers are believed to be underreported, according to the report.

"It's called the toxic release inventory for a reason," Hoffmann said. "Even though some toxins are more harmful in greater concentrations or lesser concentrations than others, they are still all toxic."

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