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IDEM Delays Clean-Up in Northwest Indiana

Jan 29, 2008

Toxic water cleanup lags

January 28, 2008
Environmentalists are concerned about the lack of progress toward cleaning up Northwest Indiana's most contaminated waters.

They say the Indiana Department of Environmental Management has focused on completing studies of rivers and streams whose levels of E. coli bacteria are too high. Meanwhile, studies of Northwest Indiana waters that are impaired for mercury, polychlorinated biphenyls and other toxic pollutants are left unfinished, which means clean-up plans are delayed.

Tom Anderson, executive director of Save the Dunes Council, said the waters polluted by bioaccumulating chemicals should have priority.

"We drain into the largest collection of freshwater in this country. I understand you need to have TMDL (studies) on waters flowing out of this state. But these are waters that drain into people's drinking water and have a retention of 99 years," he said.

Clean Water Act

The Clean Water Act requires IDEM to identify waters that do not meet water quality standards and prioritize the waters based on the severity of the pollution. The states are then supposed to complete so-called total maximum daily load (TMDL) studies of where the pollution comes from so the problem can be addressed. One way to do that is to limit how much of the pollutant various facilities can discharge.

IDEM spokeswoman Amy Hartsock rejected Anderson's criticism, saying Indiana does better than many other states.

"We take TMDLs very seriously," Hartsock said in an e-mail. "We have completed more TMDLs than three sister states (we have completed a total of 547 TMDLs, with 507 completed since 2005), which demonstrates our progress in removing impairments. We are the only state that has completed a TMDL for bacteria for Lake Michigan. Indiana takes water quality seriously, and one way we demonstrate that is by ensuring facilities have current permits that reflect today's science and standards."

Anderson disagreed. He said most of Northwest Indiana's waters once again appear on IDEM's proposed list of impaired waters for 2008. That means little progress has been made even though eight of the first 10 studies to get started many years ago were of Northwest Indiana streams, including the Grand Calumet River.

"If the (wastewater) permitting is fine, why are there so many waters on the list? What else does the agency need to do to assure our waters meet the legal requirements?" Anderson wrote to IDEM. "How many permits have had lower limits because of TMDLs that show permits have to be reduced to ensure compliance? I would argue not any," he said.

The proposed impaired waters list for 2008 is up for public comment until Thursday. It contains 1,877 stretches -- 805 fewer than the last list from 2006. IDEM said contrary to the previous list, the new one is only intended to show pollution hotspots.

IDEM has proposed taking 900 stretches of Indiana waters off the list because the agency adopted a new method to determine what consists an impaired water body, not because sampling data shows the condition of the lake or river has improved.

Hoosier Environmental Council member Bryant Mitol questioned whether IDEM is trying to make the state's waters look better on paper than they really are. He said the change in methodology makes it hard to see whether Indiana's waters have actually improved.

"We have no score to say, are we better or worse?" Mitol said. "All of a sudden, I can slide up there in my canoe. I know that's not the case."

How to comment

You can comment on the impaired waters list until Thursday. For details, visit


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