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Steel Plant Spills Cyanide, Ammonia Into River

Locales on Little Calumet River, Lake Michigan unhappy with late notice
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 20, 2019 5:13 AM CDT
In this Aug. 15, 2019, photo, a dead catfish floats along the bank of the Burns Ditch near the Portage Marina in Portage, Ind. Some beaches along northwestern Indiana's Lake Michigan shoreline are closed...   (John Luke/The Times via AP)

(Newser) – What took so long? That's what residents and municipalities on the Little Calumet River and nearby Lake Michigan are wondering in regard to notification of a chemical spill into the water, reports CBS Chicago. The ArcelorMittal steel plant has apologized for the leak of cyanide and ammonia into the Little Calumet, which flows into Lake Michigan on the Indiana shore. But exactly how much leaked, and when the leak occurred, remain unclear. The best guess is Monday, Aug. 12, or a little earlier, per the Washington Post. State environmental officials began investigating reports of distressed fish that day, and those reports accelerated over the next few days. On Thursday of that week, ArcelorMittal informed the state about the leak, blaming a "failure at the blast furnace water recirculation system."

Indiana officials then notified the public, and the National Park Service closed two beaches at Indiana Dunes. “ArcelorMittal knows that we have a responsibility to all stakeholders to be a trusted user of natural resources, and we sincerely apologize for falling short on this responsibility," said the company. It says water tests of the Little Calumet now show acceptable levels for the two chemicals, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. Tests were pending on sites along the Lake Michigan shoreline. The Indiana Department of Environmental Management estimates the spill killed 3,000 fish. Portage, Indiana, Mayor John Cannon blames both the company and the IDEM for the days-long delay in letting the public know. Says one Lake Michigan surfer: "We all were like, oh my God, we all were just in that water for 3½ hours and nobody knew about it." (Read more chemical spill stories.)

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