A heavily polluted waterway area in northwest Indiana could soon receive an infusion of restoration funding.
President Joe Biden announced $1 billion in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will be used to accelerate the cleanup of the Grand Calumet River and 21 other polluted areas along the Great Lakes known as “Areas of Concern,” through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
“For decades, there was a lot of talk, a lot of plans but very little progress. It was slow. That changes today,” Biden said. “Today we're announcing investment of $1 billion that is going to allow the most significant restoration of the Great Lakes in the history of the Great Lakes. We're going to accelerate cleanup of sites across six states in the Great Lakes Basin from Duluth, Minnesota to Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Gary, Indiana, Buffalo, New York and everywhere in between.”
Indiana’s single area of concern, the Grand Calumet River AOC, contains parts of Gary, East Chicago, Hammond and Whiting, cities with predominately minority and low-income populations. The area of concern also extends more than a mile into Lake Michigan.
Industrial facilities like steel foundries, chemical plants, oil refineries, meat packing facilities and pharmaceutical plants established themselves in what is now the Grand Calumet River AOC in the early 20th century and began discharging industrial waste and untreated sewage into local waterways while they operated.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, sediments at the bottom of the Grand Calumet River and Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal still contain pollutants like carcinogenic polychlorinated biphenyls, also known as PCBs, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, also known as PAHs. Toxic heavy metals, like mercury, cadmium, chromium and lead, have also been found in waterway sediment.
The new funding could help clean up those pollutants and eliminate the 12 forms of environmental degradation listed by the EPA, known as beneficial use impairments, like fish and wildlife consumption restrictions, animal deformities and nutrient and algae problems.
“Today’s commitment has been a long time coming, but the Alliance is thankful that Congress has recognized the need for this investment. We’re eager to get to work alongside our partners in Indiana to make progress so that these beautiful cities and rivers can once again be places where current and future Great Lakes residents can enjoy time outdoors without worrying about the effect on their health,” said Don Jodrey, director of federal relations at the Alliance for the Great Lakes.