U.S. Steel Slammed Over Dangerous Chromium Spill Near Lake Michigan

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Apr 13, 2017 9:52PM

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Chicago, via Indiana. Photo by Chicagoist Flickr Pool user Eric Allix Rogers

U.S. Steel has come under fire Thursday after it was found to have leaked dangerous, hexavalent chromium into an Indiana tributary that flows into Lake Michigan.

The leak took place at the Burns Waterway near Portage, Indiana, on Tuesday, April 11, and was reported to authorities by U.S. Steel Midwest Plant in Portage. Hexavalent chromium is a toxic chemical, made famous in the movie Erin Brockovich, that is used to keep steel from rusting and has been linked to stomach cancer. U.S. Steel allowed the chemical to spill from a broken pipe near its Gary Works plant in Indiana.

Near the site of the spill, the Ogden Dunes community shut off its drinking water intake and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore closed four beaches around Portage, according to the Tribune. The city conducted emergency water testing at its 68th Street water intake crib, according to the Tribune, and found no unusual changes.

Chicago's tap water "remains safe to drink," the mayor's office said in a statement Thursday afternoon, but Mayor Rahm Emanuel nonetheless released a statement chastising U.S. Steel for the release of the chemical. He also called on U.S. Steel to "immediately explain how they allowed a dangerous chemical into a Lake Michigan tributary where it could harm millions of people in Indiana and Illinois, and what they are doing to ensure this never happens again," and took a jab at the Trump administration efforts to cut the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The full statement, below:

"The fact that these dangerous chemicals have not reached Chicago's water supply is simply due to good luck, and not good actions by U.S. Steel. We cannot and will not tolerate careless conduct by companies that could threaten the health and safety of our residents,” Emanuel said. “U.S. Steel must immediately explain how they allowed a dangerous chemical into a Lake Michigan tributary where it could harm millions of people in Indiana and Illinois, and what they are doing to ensure this never happens again. At the same time, this incident is a warning to us all that if the Trump administration's plan to cripple the EPA is enacted, there will be no one left to protect residents from bad actors like U.S. Steel."

The Trump administration has called for the dismantling of EPA offices that work to protect American water sources by toughening and enforcing the standards on dangerous metals in drinking water. The administration is also trying to slash the funding to a Great Lakes cleanup and restoration program that, among other goals, works to clean up toxins in the Great Lakes caused in part by pollution from U.S. Steel.