‘No danger’ from chem spill at West Lakes

NOBLE COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) A ferric chloride spill into the north branch of the Elkhart River that flowed into the embattled Jones and Waldron lake chain has been cleared by state officials.

Noble County Emergency Management Director Mick Newton said the Indiana Department of Environmental Management today told him that there is “no danger to residents or fish coming from the (Wolcottville Waste Water Treatment plant).”

Crews continue to run tests on the water in Waldron Lake after high levels of E. coli are detected.
Crews continue to run tests on the water in Waldron Lake after high levels of E. coli are detected.

Newton said he had been requesting updates on the situation since Aug. 14, when 1,200-1,400 gallons of a chemical used to treat waste water leaked out of the Wolcottville Waste Water Treatment Plant and flowed more than four miles away to the Elkhart River, which connects to Jones Lakes and into Waldron Lake.

Officials said most of the spill had been localized to the plant itself, but crews had been testing the waters since to make sure the waters weren’t contaminated.

By Thursday, Newton said IDEM responded to his request for an update with an effective ‘all clear.’

“It is their policy not to issue an ‘All Clear’ type of release,” Newton said of his conversation with IDEM officials. “‘We generally only issue a release if there is an active threat to human or the environment and the current ammonia levels are not high enough to warrant a warning,'” he said he was told.

“When asked if IDEM was saying that this meant that there was no danger to fish and residents, he responded, ‘Yes, there is no danger to residents or fish coming from the (Wolcottville Waste Water Treatment Plant) based on the most decent data IDEM observed.”

The issues aren’t over for the lakes chain, though.

The spill came amid E. coli levels that had been spiked to more than four times the safe limit at the West Lakes chain. Those levels forced the closure of popular Waldron Lake after the West Lakes Association tested the lake water amid contamination concerns from summer flooding.

The search for E. coli contamination at Waldron Lake was quickly narrowed to a three areas of the lake, and the Noble County Board of Health and the Noble County Emergency Management Agency began work to identify potential sources of contamination based on the flow patterns from previous tests.

That work continues. Newton said the Noble County Health Department is continuing to work to identify the source of E. coli flowing into Jones and Waldron lakes. He said that test results from samples taken Wednesday came back high, mainly in the same area along the north shore of Waldron Lake near the channel between Jones Lake and Waldron Lake.

Newton said a private line from a home in that area was found to have a break in it. It has been repaired and officials will take samples again Friday to determine if that was at least part of the high readings, Newton said.

Until crews can stop the source of the E. coli contamination, Newton said the advisory issued by the Noble County Health Officer cautioning people and pets to avoid contact with the water, especially along the north shore of Waldon Lake and the channel between Jones Lake and Waldron Lake, remains in effect.

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