About a year ago, U.S Steel spilled hexavalent chromium into a tributary of Lake Michigan. As a result of the spill, four beaches were closed in Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. A plume of hexavalent chromium drifted close to one of the places where Chicago gets its drinking water, causing the city to spend $75,000 monitoring the situation. Indiana American Water was very concerned about tainted water, so they shut down a well at Ogden Dunes.
U.S. Steel has agreed to do things to make up for their mistakes. They have agreed to pay a civil penalty that is about $600,000.00, revamp their wastewater monitoring system, give $240,500 to the National Park Service and give money to other government agencies.
U.S. Steel is currently being held up to certain standards in an effort to keep future pollution events from happening. By April 15th, they must develop a plan for wastewater management and send it to the IDEM and EPA. By June 15th, they must repair a concrete containment trench.
The spill happened on April 11th, 2017. Soon after, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management and the EPA inspected the plant and found numerous violations.
According to Paul Labovitz, the Indiana Dunes National Park Superintendent, it is a good thing that the spill didn’t happen during beach season. If it happened during beach season, people would have been bathing in toxic waters.
Hexavalent chromium was made famous by the movie “Erin Brokovich,” a biographical film about a spill.
A bill introduced by Indiana Congressman Pete Visclosky has passed the House and been sent to the United States Senate. The legislation, known as H.R.1488, would establish Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore as a national park. Indiana Dunes is already afforded a protected status as a national lakeshore, and changing its designation to national park would provide it with additional funding. If H.R.1488 passes the Senate, Indiana Dunes would be the first national park in Indiana.
Indiana Dunes is located on the south shore of Lake Michigan. The dunes were formed about 15,000 years ago when the glaciers that covered much of Indiana retreated. After the glaciers diminished, they filled Lake Michigan with meltwater. A dominant current in Lake Michigan developed; this current approaches the shore at an angle. When the current deposits sand from the lakebed above the shoreline, the sand dries out and is blown into dunes. Some of the Indiana Dunes move 60 feet per year, while others only drift 4 feet. The area was occupied in prehistory by Hopewell peoples, but European trappers later passed through the dunes in search of game. At one time, the U.S. Army had a missile base located within the boundaries of the present-day park. The base was decommissioned after Indiana Dunes was designated a national lakeshore in 1966.
In addition to its geological features, Indiana Dunes is also home to significant native plants like yellow gentian, white baneberry and birthwort. Indiana Dunes also shelters the endangered Indian bat and the threatened Eastern Massasauga rattlesnake. The lakeshore provides a safe haven for white-tailed deer, Canada geese and great blue herons.