BY SUSAN BROWN, Times of Northwest Indiana
sbrown@nwitimes.com 

EAST CHICAGO | John Bakota lives near East Chicago Central High School, located just south of the Confined Disposal Facility, or CDF, that will be filled with tons of contaminated sediment when the dredging of the Indiana Harbor Ship Canal gets under way.

It is estimated the sediments contribute 67,000 pounds of chromium, 100,000 pounds of lead and 420 pounds of PCBs to Lake Michigan annually, according to the East Chicago Waterway Management District, the body established by state statute to supervise the city's waterways.

Bakota, a mayoral appointee to the district's board, has his doubts about the effectiveness of the methods that will be used to dredge the canal and the eventual disposal of the toxic waste.

"Will the cure be as bad or worse than the disease?" Bakota asks. "Right now we have a dirty canal, but could we end up with a still dirty canal and a dump besides?"

Like other environmentalists, Bakota objects to the canal's dredging being only navigational.

"Our main concern is that this is going to be a navigational dredge and not an environmental dredge," he said. "They're going to go right down the center of the canal."

The navigational dredge will remove decades of sediment from the bottom of the canal so ships can clear it without dragging their bottoms.

Bakota said there will be no cleanup of the canal's banks, which are saturated with petroleum.

While Bakota and other environmentalists question whether the dredging method is the safest, their most immediate focus is the construction of the facility that will hold the dredged material.

Betty Balanoff, chairperson of the Coalition for a Clean Environment, said the CDF, which won't be capped for 30 years, will release toxins into the air.

"The whole thing needs to be rethought," she said.

In December, the U.S. Enviromental Protection Agency released a supplemental risk assessment basically concluding the health risks were within EPA's safety levels.

The study examined 53 different chemicals to determine how the chemicals might move or be deposited. Five years of local weather information was used to account for wind, storms and temperatures.

The study was based on not only the maximum annual allowable emissions by the CDF but the impact of the dredging over 30 years.

Using worst-case scenarios for the CDF, the study estimated the highest risk of developing cancer for an adult or child is 1.4 in 100,000 people. The study also evaluated exposure to lead, dioxins and high winds, concluding potential lead releases would not be significant and dioxin exposure lower than national averages.

The coalition presented its five-page response to the EPA's findings at the Waterway Management District's board meeting Feb. 21.

The coalition challenged the EPA's methodology on several levels, most significantly on lead exposure.

The EPA has set a goal of limiting lead exposure to children to no more than 5 percent of blood levels above micrograms per deciliter, but the coalition contends it has been established children can suffer serious harm from far less lead.
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