Since 2002, residents of the Porter County Town of Pines have been trying to get state and federal authorities to address contamination coming from a nearby landfill and entering their drinking water wells. Testing of area wells and Brown Ditch, which flows through the town and the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore before entering Lake Michigan, has shown high levels of boron and manganese.
Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that an additional 140 town residents will be hooked up to Michigan City’s water supply as part of an agreement with the four companies believed to be responsible for the contamination. Under the agreement the Northern Indiana Public Service Company, Brown, Inc., (the company that manages the landfill),D. Dalt Corp, and Bulk Transport Corp. will pay for the $2 million construction project and the follow-up studies associated with the contaminated wells. According to EPA project manager Ken Theisen, the studies will address the health effects to the people and the environment, and could lead to future waterline construction projects and cleanup requirements. The studies may take up to three years to complete.
People in Need of Environmental Safety (PINES), the citizens action group formed by town residents, is pleased with the progress, but is pushing for more. The group is working toward supplying all of the residents potentially affected by the contamination with clean water from Michigan City. Their goal is supported by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry’s (ATSDR) report on the contamination, which recommends an alternate long-term water source: 1) to eliminate exposure to contaminants that are known to cause health effects at the levels detected and 2) to eliminate the uncertainty of risk from additive effects of exposure to these contaminants. The EPA requested that ATSDR assist in evaluating whether groundwater contamination impacting residential water wells in the Town of Pines, Indiana poses an immediate health threat to residents in April of 2002. The conclusions to the ATSDR’s final Health Consultation on the Town of Pines Groundwater Plume(1) were:
1) Contaminated groundwater has significantly impacted the drinking water supply for many residents. Because the groundwater plume has not been fully characterized, it is uncertain how many additional residential wells could be impacted by the plume in the future.
2) Significant fluctuations in contaminant concentrations have occurred in individual homes during the two years that sampling was conducted. Therefore, filters at the taps of selected individual homes are not adequate to provide long-term protection of drinking water for all residents of the Town of Pines.
3) Residential wells in the Town of Pines contain detected elevated levels of metals and VOCs. The extent of contamination is unknown.
4) Levels of arsenic, boron, manganese, and lead have been detected in residential wells at levels similar or equal to those associated with adverse health effects noted in scientific literature.
The health consultation’s concluding paragraph also states, “current levels of contaminants, in some instances,may pose a threat to adults and children living in the area. ATSDR suggests an alternate water supply for impacted residential wells, and the investigation of a long-term solution to water quality problems.”
PINES received a $3,500 grant from the Great Lakes Aquatic Habitat Fund to assist with monitoring the water quality at all of the homes potentially affected by the contamination. So far, PINES has facilitated the testing of an additional 147 homes in the town and surrounding area. The testing has revealed contamination of wells not yet being addressed by the EPA. PINES has also just completed the first round of testing at five sites along Brown Ditch, and plans to conduct another with the remaining funds. The group plans to use the data collected from the wells and the ditch to urge a water supply connection for all residents in the groundwater plume area.