City of Portage wants answers after steel company failed to report cyanide spill

PORTAGE, Ind. (WNDU) - The city of Portage wants answers after an Indiana steel company failed to report a cyanide spill that shut down the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk and killed more than 3,000 fish.

Portage beaches reopened Thursday, but not before a cyanide and ammonia spill that caused America's newest national park to close down.

"ArcelorMittal Steel dumped too much cyanide and too much ammonia into the system, into our waterway system that takes it out into Lake Michigan," Portage Mayor John Cannon told 16 News Now's Ibrahim Samra on Friday.

According to Cannon, ArcelorMittal Steel reportedly dumped 188 pounds of cyanide into the Little Calumet River -- more than eight times the legal limit per day.

Shockingly enough, Cannon says that is not the most disturbing part.

"From Monday, when the spill occurred, until Thursday, none of us knew. The beaches and waterways were essentially potentially contaminated for four days without anyone knowing," Cannon said.

After several residents reported dead fish, ArcelorMittal openly admitted the spill on Friday, Aug. 16.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management has also been criticized for failing to report the cyanide spill.

Lifelong Portage resident Robert Hallmen said he is in disbelief that such a big spill could go unreported for four days without letting the city know.

"We have a potential of millions of people being contaminated with cyanide, and there is no one to be sought," Hallmen said.

IDEM says results from multiple sample tests show that the detection of cyanide in the the Little Calumet River and along the shore of Lake Michigan show higher detection than normal.

However, because the results were well below the federal Safe Drinking Water Act threshold, the National Park Service decided to reopen Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk Thursday.

"The mayor should always know first, but rest assured, water is safe to drink and water is safe to fish out of and safe to enjoy at the beach," Cannon said.

Because of the spill, ArcelorMittal has been asked by the city to replenish the 3,000 dead fish with 6,000 live fish.

Cannon says he will look to add a daily monitoring system to monitor any dumping along the Portage Lakefront and Riverwalk.