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Elevated arsenic levels found in NW Indiana town

TOWN OF PINES, Ind. (AP) – Seven yards in the tiny Lake Michigan community of Town of Pines are contaminated with elevated levels of arsenic but do not pose an immediate threat, a spokesman for a northern Indiana power company said Wednesday.

The toxic heavy metal’s source is a landfill holding fly ash, a byproduct of burning coal at power plants operated by Northern Indiana Public Service Co., company spokesman Nick Meyer said.

NIPSCO representatives and officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency went door-to-door Tuesday informing residents of the town of about 700 residents some 20 miles east of Gary of the elevated arsenic levels in their yards’ soils. They also planned to address the town council Wednesday night.

Meyer stressed the EPA and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, another federal agency, said the arsenic does not pose an immediate public health threat.

“All of the arsenic is limited to soils,” he told The (Munster) Times. “This is not a ground water issue.”

The elevated arsenic levels were discovered last week as part of follow-up sampling from an earlier fly ash issue.

The EPA determined in 2000 that NIPSCO, Brown, Inc., Ddalt Corp. and Bulk Transport Corp. were the potentially responsible parties for contamination of groundwater in The Pines from a landfill near U.S. 20 that holds more than 1 million tons of fly ash.

That landfill was deemed a Superfund site in 2000. As part of a consent decree reached between the EPA and NIPSCO, municipal drinking water connections via adjacent Michigan City’s system were established and bottled water was provided for some residents.

In late 2014, NIPSCO, EPA and members of The Pines Group – a grassroots citizens group dedicated to the fly ash issues – identified nine properties for sampling to cross-reference with previous samples taken when NIPSCO installed a municipal water system there.

Meyer said that when the initial samples were taken nearly a decade ago, no elevated levels of arsenic were found.

He said 36 other properties that have been identified as possibly containing fly ash will also be tested now, along with the latest nine sampled.

Plans are under way on how to remediate the contaminated soils, Meyer said.