The Town of Pines is a small community located less than a mile inland from Lake Michigan and is adjacent to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore. Residents of the town and its surrounding area rely solely on individual groundwater wells for their drinking water. In April of 2000, results from random well testing conducted by the EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management showed that several drinking water wells were contaminated with volatile organic compounds and metals. Residents’ complaints that their water smelled like nail polish prompted the testing.With only 10% of the wells tested, residents insisted that accurate results could not be obtained until all the wells were tested.
The Town of Pines sits on an unconfined aquifer and the wells are located in a highly porous sand layer, down gradient from three landfills. One of the landfills, owned by Brown, Inc., accepted byproducts of coal combustion processes used by utility power plants. Other sources of contamination include fly ash, underground gasoline storage tanks, dredging spoils and unregulated junk and scrap yards. Northern Indiana Public Service Company’s (NIPSCO) Michigan City generating station has been identified as a source of fly ash. NIPSCO and Brown, Inc. have been named responsible parties.
The citizens of the Town of Pines founded the People in Need of Environmental Safety (PINES) in March 2002 in response to the discovery of the contaminated wells. Environmental groups Save the Dunes Council, Hoosier Environmental Council, and Clean Air Task Force, joined PINES to file a notice of intent to sue against the landfill owner. NIPSCO and Brown, Inc. have since entered into a consent order with the EPA to fund a $2 million water pipeline to provide about 30% of the homes with water.
The EPA has maintained that random testing provides a representation of the total contamination. After over a year of denied requests for further testing, PINES contracted for independent testing. The results show levels of boron in a previously untested well almost double what the EPA considers a long-term health risk. The EPA conducted their own additional tests, which preliminarily validated the independent tests, and PINES has renewed its call for comprehensive testing.