- Lori McCallister, via Wikimedia Commons
- The Indiana Dunes, on Lake Michigan: better hold your nose.
The Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) announced yesterday it had updated an online database to help families keep track of beach closings on Lake Michigan, just in time for the summer season:
IDEM's online software system through the Indiana Lake Michigan Beaches program offers information about beach closures and beach sampling results for monitoring locations along the coast of Lake Michigan. The free web-based system allows the public to access information from their home computers to see if a particular beach has an alert. [...]
Beach waters should be avoided when water samples analyzed for Escherichia coli (E. coli) are found to contain high levels. "Lake Michigan beach advisories are issued when bacteria levels reach the point where it would be unhealthy for people to be in the water," said Michelle Caldwell, IDEM's Beach Grant Program coordinator. "When the levels are high, people are at risk of becoming ill from contact with the water. Exposing skin cuts or wounds, as well as ingesting the water, can increase the chances of illness."
No doubt a good thing. Assuming E. coli were the only problem plaguing Lake Michigan. Which, of course it isn't — far from it.
As reporting at the Gary Post-Tribune has shown recently, E. coli, though a serious concern whenever its numbers rise, is just one of several rather serious concerns for Lake Michigan. Earlier this month, the Post-Tribune reported that Municipal wastewater treatment plants were consistently in serious violation of waste water permits along and near Lake Michigan — worse than industry heavyweights like ArceorMittal.
The reasons? In Hammond, they've been discharging too much chloride, which is used to treat bacteria like E. coli so beach closures like the ones mentioned above can be avoided.
In East Chicago, the major problem is mercury: According to the Post-Tribune, which examined a new Environmental Protection Agency database, "the East Chicago Sanitary District discharged mercury nearly 800 times its monthly limit in the last quarter of 2007."
Not that we would know what Mercury levels look like today: As we've noted here before, the IDEM decided to shut down its mercury monitors around the state last month (hat tip to Gitte Laasby of the Post-Tribune for that head's up, too).
The move was sold as a cost-cutting measure, which the department estimated would save a piddly $285,000 annually. Meanwhile the monitoring station at the Indiana Dunes, on Lake Michigan, has at times registered one of the top 10 highest concentrations of mercury in the country.
Make sure to bring the wet suit and nose plugs.