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The Water I Drink: Grand Cal Toxins Excavated


HAMMOND | The first phase of a long-awaited cleanup of the Grand Calumet River was completed last week, with remediation work on the waterway now moving westward through the heart of the city.

The $33.1 million project aims to remove from the bottom of the river sediment contaminated with toxic and cancer-causing chemicals deposited there through more than a century of industrial activity.

Tainted river bottom between Columbia Avenue and Howard Avenue has been hauled away since work began in December, and excavation all the way to Calumet Avenue is scheduled for completion by June.

Sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the remediation project will remove close to 82,000 cubic yards of polluted sediment from the waterway — last dredged in 1895 — all the way to Hohman Avenue.

Plans call for covering the exposed river bottom with two layers of plastic liners sandwiching a filling of carbon particles and then 2 feet of clean sand and gravel to permanently separate any remaining toxins from the restored aquatic habitat above.

“Our goal is to reduce the risk of contaminants from the sediments coming into the river,” said James Smith, a scientist with the Indiana Department of Environmental Management’s Natural Resources Damage Program.

“When we finish this cap, the river will meet water quality standards to allow aquatic life to return,” Smith said.

The sediment removed so far to the Newton County Landfill has been less hazardous than expected, Smith said, with none exceeding federal limits for carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCB, which would have required transport to a special disposal facility in Michigan.

The final Calumet-to-Hohman leg of the cleanup currently is in the design stage, with the timing of the work set to coincide with a massive $23 million Hammond Sanitary District project to control stormwater runoff into the river through construction of a 25 million-gallon retention basin.

EPA ordered the district to build the 14-acre basin to prevent further contamination of the river. Preparation of the chosen site, currently occupied by the Irving Little League and Babe Ruth League baseball fields, is scheduled to begin after this summer’s baseball season.

Some $21.5 million of the total $33.1 million cost of the Hammond river cleanup is covered through the federal Great Lakes Legacy Act, a law enacted by Congress in 2002 to restore beneficial uses to polluted areas of the Great Lakes.

The remaining $11.6 million comes from fines collected from polluting industries into an account administered by the IDEM and the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

Plans are also being finalized for an estimated $43 million cleanup of the Grand Calumet from Columbia Avenue to Indianapolis Boulevard, Smith said, which would include restoration of 25 acres of Roxana Marsh wetlands, a nationally recognized bird nesting habitat.

The EPA is considering alternatives for remediation of the site in 2011, Smith said

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