‘Rusty’ liquid from US Steel plant spills into Lake Michigan, closing Indiana beaches

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A “rusty colored” liquid from a U.S. Steel plant in Indiana spilled into Lake Michigan, forcing a national park to close beaches for swimming and a water treatment facility to shut down.

The U.S. Steel plant in Portage was closed after discolored water from an outfall flowed into the water Sunday evening, the company said in a statement. The company said an “upset condition” with the finishing line wastewater treatment plant likely caused the discharge.

“Early indications show higher than normal suspended solids in the water, and we are conducting additional sampling and an investigation to determine the cause,” U.S. Steel said in the statement to McClatchy News.

On Tuesday, the company said water samples had elevated concentrations of iron, which caused the discoloration.

“There are no indications of permit level exceedances for hexavalent and total chromium, as those sampling results came in well below permit limits,” U.S. Steel said. “The Midwest Plant was shut down as a precaution, and we continue to coordinate with agencies to collect additional samples to monitor the situation.”

Portage City Councilman Collin Czilli shared photos of the spill shortly after it was reported.

Indiana American Water shut down a nearby water treatment facility that serves northwest Indiana. Another treatment facility in the region can “provide adequate treatment capacity to meet customer needs,” the water utility company said.

Indiana Dunes National Park was closed to swimmers at all of its beaches while investigators determine the “nature and extent of the discharge,” officials said.

“U. S. Steel made all appropriate notifications to regulatory agencies and some officials have been onsite, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, the U.S. Coast Guard, and Porter County,” the company said.

In 2017, the U.S. Steel plant spilled about 300 pounds of hexavalent chromium, a metal added to steel that’s known to cause cancer, into the waterway, The Times of Northwest Indiana reported.

The company agreed to pay about $600,000 in civil penalties, $625,000 to agencies that responded to that spill, and $600,000 for a water sampling program as part of a recent consent decree, the newspaper reported.

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