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Toxic chemical spill closes parts of Lake Michigan, EPA investigating

PORTAGE, Ind. -

About two miles of Portage beach front is closed off after a toxic chemical spill happened early Tuesday morning.

The National Park service announced that hexavalent chromium spilled into the Burns Waterway, about 100 yards from the opening to Lake Michigan there. 

According to the Department of Labor, that chemical is used during “hot work”, like welding.

That spill originated at U.S. Steel in Portage. The bi-product came out of a hole in a pipe that was connected to the waste water treatment connected to the facility. 

“We have no confirmation that it has made its way into Lake Michigan, but there is sampling going on right now,” said Natalie Johnson, Executive Director of Save The Dunes in Michigan City.

Johnson is worried.

The Environmental Protection Agency and the national parks service closed off all entrances leading to the affected areas.

“Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk, Boaters Beach and West Beach, and the community of Ogden Dunes beach,” said Johnson. And a third beach was added Wednesday, Cowles Bog Beach.

Pedestrians were warned over social media not to make any contact with those areas of Lake Michigan until further notice.

“There could be some monitoring that reports samples as early as today,” said Johnson.

But many beachgoers were stopped at the gates saying they had no idea this was even happening. Johnson says she isn’t surprised.

“It really is kind of a broken system again of the sense of urgency. This is a great example where I’m uncertain if we’re prepared,” said Johnson.

Johnson says this particular chemical dissipates very quickly in the water, however it is known to cause skin lesions. The feds say it’s been known to cause cancer.

“The lack of awareness of the public, the reactions, being left in the dark, is very concerning,” said Johnson.

But until that info is relayed, Johnson says she’ll continue watching out for her community.

“Until the samples are actually in hand that say this water is safe to go into, stay off of those beaches just for the time being,” said Johnson.

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