Scientists ready for East Chicago dredging to begin
EAST CHICAGO | A long-delayed dredging of the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal is scheduled to begin next summer, and researchers are expanding their study to measure toxic chemical levels.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to remove about 4.6 million cubic yards of sediment from the harbor and canal, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says contains 362 toxic and cancer-causing substances and is the most contaminated waterway in the Great Lakes area. The EPA will permanently store the material at a disposal site along Indianapolis Boulevard at Riley Road.
Scientists from four universities began measuring concentrations of one pollutant — polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs — in the blood of 50 participating West Side Junior High School students and their mothers in 2006. They will compare their findings to today's canal levels when dredging begins.
The study will compare blood PCB levels and air samples collected over time in the families' homes, at nearby East Chicago Central High School and along the canal itself with data from a community of similar size in eastern Iowa with no known sources of PCBs.
Bolstered by another four years of federal funding and the imminent start of the Army Corps project, researchers were at Block Junior High School last week to enroll another 20 families into the study.
"So far, PCBs are found at very similar levels in the blood of participants in East Chicago and the (rural Iowa) control community," Craig Just, research scientist with the University of Iowa, said Wednesday. "So airborne PCBs should be the only potential difference."
Speaking to directors of the East Chicago Waterway Management District, local sponsor of the dredging project, Just said his study group, Airborne Exposure to Semi-volatile Organic Pollutants, or AESOP, will make regular reports to the board while dredging continues.
PCBs have been banned in the United States since 1977, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services claims exposure to PCBs can cause cancer of the liver and biliary tract. The chemical also has been linked to problems with motor skills and a decrease in short-term memory in children.
Once dredging begins, about 400,000 cubic yards of sediment will be removed during the annual two to six months of operations, said Natalie Mills, Army Corps project manager. Sediment will be transported by barge under the Indianapolis Boulevard drawbridge to the confined disposal facility, which covers 186 acres of a former Sinclair Oil refinery just blocks from East Chicago Central High School.
The harbor and canal have not been dredged since 1972, and 1.8 million cubic yards of sediment initially will be removed as backlog, Mills said, with "maintenance dredging" occupying the remaining 25 years of the $150 million project.
The Army Corps will maintain real-time air monitoring around the disposal site, Mills said, as well as at the dock where sediment will be transferred from barges into the 21-foot-tall confinement facility.
A website is being prepared by a private contractor to report findings from air monitors, Mills said, and to inform the community about the ongoing dredging activities.
SOURCE: NWI Times, article by Steve Zabroski