Workers at U.S. Steel in Portage gather Thursday afternoon near an overflow from the steel mill. Staff photo by Doug Ross
Workers at U.S. Steel in Portage gather Thursday afternoon near an overflow from the steel mill. Staff photo by Doug Ross

PORTAGE — A second spill in less than two weeks has occurred at the local U.S. Steel Midwest plant into the nearby Burns Waterway that feeds into Lake Michigan, again shutting down lake access from nearby National Park and Ogden Dunes beaches.

The spill is not anticipated to have an impact on the Lake Michigan source water for the Ogden Dunes water treatment facility, which remains online at this time, said Joe Loughmiller, external affairs manager for Indiana American Water.

"We are continuing to closely watch our source water monitors and remain in contact with all involved parties regarding this situation," Loughmiller said.

Meanwhile, officials and agencies are continuing the investigation.

"This morning, we identified a sheen in the Burns Waterway outside of our Midwest Plant," Amanda Malkowski, lead media relations person with United States Steel Corp. said in a statement sought by The Times.

"We have shut down the rolling mills, as we investigate," she said. "The sheen has been contained by an existing boom, and vacuum trucks are removing any accumulation. At this time the leak appears to be contained, and we are not observing any sheen outside the boomed area. We are working with IDEM, and notifications have been made to other relevant authorities."

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management is aware of the reported sheen at the mill and investigating, Public Information Officer Barry Sneed said in response to inquiry from The Times.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did not immediately respond to an inquiry for comment.

Portage Mayor Sue Lynch said unlike the Sept. 26 spill, officials at U.S. Steel contacted her about Thursday's occurrence and she was assured the company reported the incident to the appropriate regulatory agencies.

"So they're all on scene testing," she said.

The contents of spill is not yet known and it is also unknown if it is the result of equipment failure or human error, Lynch said. U.S. Steel is going to have to do a better job preventing these types of discharges, she said.

"It's very frustrating," she said.

The Indiana Dunes National Park closed access to the lake Thursday off the neighboring Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk as a result of the "oily sheen," Supervisory Park Ranger and Public Information Officer Bruce Rowe said.

"Portage Lakefront is still open for people to visit," he said. "They just can't enter the water. Also, all other national park beaches are open at this time."

The nearby community of Ogden Dunes also shut down access to Lake Michigan from its beach, a town official said.

U.S. Steel said last week a failure by a vendor to deliver sulfuric acid used for wastewater treatment is part of the cause for its Sept. 26 spill from the company's Midwest plant that closed beaches, shut down a nearby drinking water treatment facility and triggered sampling by local, state and federal officials.

The company said there was no permit violation and "no visible adverse impacts to the environment, aquatic life or wildlife."

Portage industrial spill triggers call for improved state oversight

U.S. Steel said elevated concentrations of iron were the cause of the discolored discharge into the Burns Waterway in Portage and down the ditch toward the nearby Lake Michigan.

A coalition of entities with interests in the local shoreline of Lake Michigan called last week on state leaders to do more to protect the resource from industrial spills such as the U.S. Steel Midwest incident.

"Based on the ongoing and chronic nature of industrial water pollution events along the shores of Lake Michigan, and in this case immediately following renewal of a wastewater discharge permit by the state and recent approval of a consent decree by a federal court, it is clear that Indiana’s system of water pollution control regulation is broken," according to a letter released by the coalition of more than 20 local and national entities.

Times Staff Writer Anna Ortiz contributed to this story.

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