West Beach, Cowles Bog Beach, and Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Beach were deemed safe for the public after an undetermined amount of the toxic chemical, hexavalent chromium, was spilled into Burns Waterway by a U.S. Steel plant at Portage, Indiana, on April 11. The waterway is 100 yards upstream of Lake Michigan.
Water and beach sand samples collected by contractors for the Environmental Protection Agency on three consecutive days showed hexavalent chromium levels were below the laboratory reporting limit of 1 part per billion.
According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, hexavalent chromium "is known to cause cancer. In addition, it targets the respiratory system, kidneys, liver, skin and eyes."
The National Park Service is working with the EPA and other agencies to implement long-term monitoring to ensure the safety of park visitors to the beaches. Park staff also remains concerned about potential long-term harm to wildlife and other park resources.
Over the weekend, the EPA monitored the U.S. Steel line-by-line startup process and did not detect any additional hexavalent chromium from the outfall. U.S. Steel resumed full operations on Monday.