APRIL 13, 2017
In the news the past couple days comes a report of a toxic chemical, hexavalent chromium, accidentally being spilled into one of the discharges at a steel processing plant along Burns Waterway, a.k.a. Burns Ditch. This is the river leading from Lake Michigan to the Portage Public Marina where I originate many of my Lake Michigan fishing trips.
WHAT I KNOW
1) The steel company, fixed the leak and stopped the outflow as soon as possible. The company self-reported to authorities including the EPA, Coast Guard, IDEM and DNR.
2) The Portage Marina and boat traffic on the waterway was closed for a short time but both are now open, as normal.
3) The aerial photos of the mouth of the waterway is misleading.
4) The EPA is the lead agency with other agencies helping where needed.
5) Drinking water intakes and nearby beaches are closed for precautionary reasons only and testing is on-going.
6) Hexavalent Chromium is bad stuff, made famous by the Erin Brokavich movie. The H.C. contamination in the movie was long-term exposure to people through drinking water contamination from long-term dumping by a power company. That doesn’t make this incident good. It does make the Portage incident different than the California incident.
WHAT ISN’T KNOWN
1) No one knows how much H.C. was spilled. The broken pipe leaked contaminated water, not pure or concentrated H. Chromium, but how much went down the drain isn’t known.
2) Official reports are none of the stuff made it to Lake Michigan. Is this true? If it were certain, no need for #5 Known Fact.
Regardless of knowns and unknowns, let me say: THIS IS BAD. THE TOLERANCE FOR TOXINS ENTERING PUBLIC WATERS SHOULD BE ZERO.
So far what I’ve seen is a mix of real news, conjecture and fake news. I’ve not heard many facts not filtered through three or four sources.
FAKE NEWS - There have been substantial rains recently and there's a lot of silt in the water flowing down Burns Waterway from upstream. The ditch-water is brown, Lake Michigan is green/blue. Fly over in a copter or with a drone to take photos for your news show or newspaper and you see a big brown plume of water running out of the ditch into Lake Michigan.
On screen or in the photo it looks like there's a bajillion gallons of water, chemically tainted dark brown, flowing out into the lake. The look of this photo would be identical whether the spill had occurred or not. Similar photos can be taken at every tributary of Lake Michigan after storm run-off runs into the lake.
My best guess is if there are any affects, they will be localized and short-lived. I would imagine we'll get the "rest" of the story in the next few days or weeks and it won't be as glamorous as the drone-photo of the muddy water flowing out of Burns Ditch so it will be a page two filler article.
There are plenty of places to fish, completely unaffected.