A sign warns water in the Grand Calumet River is unsafe. Staff photo by Joseph S. Pete
A sign warns water in the Grand Calumet River is unsafe. Staff photo by Joseph S. Pete
EAST CHICAGO — Eight to 10 million gallons a day of wastewater is flowing into the Grand Calumet River while contractors work to repair a sewer main break.

A semi-truck and trailer sank into a sink hole by East Chicago's wastewater treatment plant Wednesday, causing the spill of raw sewage crews are still scrambling to fix. The sunken truck ruptured a 42-inch Alder Street sewer force main carrying most of the city's wastewater, according to the city.

"A catastrophic event occurred wherein a 42-inch diameter force main, carrying approximately 80% of the plant's daily influent flow of wastewater from our Alder Street lift station, collapsed, resulting in the flooding of 152nd Street and Indianapolis Boulevard," East Chicago said in a public service advisory Monday morning.

"Immediate steps taken by the city included the pumping of the wastewater from the broken force main location into the publicly owned treatment works. Additionally, the sanitary pumps at the Alder lift station were shut off, such that any wastewater flow from the Alder lift station was pumped via storm pumps into the Grand Calumet River at our combined sewer overflow outfall location located on the west side of the Cline Avenue frontage road."

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management estimates the flow from the line carries a volume ranging from 8 million gallons per day to as much as 21 million gallons per day during heavy rains.

East Chicago brought in a contractor to fix the problem, but the discharge at the combined sewer overflow, or CSO, site continues.

"This discharge will continue until the city and its contractors are able to install line stops at the upstream and downstream section of broken force main and install temporary bypass plumbing to restore the connection of the force main to the publicly owned treatment works," East Chicago said in its public service advisory. "Once the bypass plumbing is installed, the sanitary pumps at Alder lift station will be turned on and the emergency bypass discharge to the Grand Calumet will cease. During this time, the city is conducting daily inspections of outfall discharge and has implemented a daily sampling program which includes the collection of water samples from the Grand Calumet River at the outfall location as well as locations upstream and downstream of the outfall.

IDEM said it did not observe any signs that aquatic life was harmed in the river, which was long a dumping ground for steel mills, refineries and other industrial sites from across the heavily industrialized Calumet Region, though it is being gradually restored.

East Chicago said the water in the Grand Cal in the vicinity of the overflow is currently unsafe.

"The City of East Chicago recommends that individuals avoid direct contact with water in the Grand Calumet River within 1,000 yards of the CSO #003 outfall location until this emergency bypass release has been terminated and the river conditions are returned to pre-emergency conditions," it said. "Consumption of, or direct contact with, waste-contaminated water could make you ill."

The city's sanitary district treats wastewater from 5,440 homes, 200 government offices, 1,265 commercial businesses and 26 major industrial firms. So far this year, it has collected on average 12.4 million gallons per day.

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