Grand Calumet River Area of Concern

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Grand Calumet River AOC 
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Lake Michigan Lakewide Action and Management Plan
Grand Calumet River AOC Index
Great Lakes AOC Index

This page is a work in progress and not the final product. The content on this page does not necessarily represent the views of IDEM and the project partners.


The Grand Calumet River, originating in the east end of Gary, Indiana, flows 13 miles (21 km) through the heavily industrialized cities of Gary, East Chicago, and Hammond. The majority of the river's flow drains into Lake Michigan via the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal, sending about one billion gallons of water into the lake per day. The Area of Concern (AOC) is located in the Little Calumet-Galien Rivers watershed begins 15 miles (24 km) south of downtown Chicago and includes the east branch of the river, a small segment of the west branch and the Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal. Today, 90% of the river's flow originates as municipal and industrial effluent, cooling and process water and storm water overflows. Although discharges have been reduced, a number of contaminants continue to impair the AOC.

The largest extent of the impairment to the AOC come from the legacy pollutants found in the sediments at the bottom of the Grand Calumet River and Indiana Harbor and Ship Canal. Problems in the AOC include contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals, such as mercury, cadmium, chromium and lead. Additional problems include high fecal coliform bacteria levels, biochemical oxygen demand (BOD) and suspended solids, oil and grease. These contaminants originated from both point and nonpoint sources. Nonpoint sources include:

  • Contaminated Sediment. The Grand Calumet River and Indiana Harbor and Canal contain 5 to 10 million cubic yards (3.9 to 7.7 million cubic meters) of contaminated sediment up to 20 feet (6 m) deep. Contaminants include toxic compounds (e.g., PAHs, PCBs and heavy metals) and conventional pollutants (e.g., phosphorus, nitrogen, iron, magnesium, volatile solids, oil and grease).
  • Industrial Waste Site Runoff. Stormwater runoff and leachate from 11 of 38 waste disposal and storage sites in the AOC, located within .2 mi (.3 km) of the river, are degrading AOC water quality. Contaminants include oil, heavy metals, arsenic, PCBs, PAHs and lead.
  • CERCLA Sites. There are 52 sites in the AOC listed in the federal Comprehensive Environmental Response Compensation and Liability System (CERCLA). Five of these sites are Superfund sites on the National Priorities List (NPL).
  • Hazardous Waste Sites under RCRA. There are 423 hazardous waste sites in the AOC regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), such as landfills or surface impoundments, where hazardous waste is disposed. Twenty-two of these sites are treatment, storage and disposal facilities.
  • Underground Storage Tanks (USTs). There are more than 460 underground storage tanks in the AOC. More than 150 leaking tank reports have been filed for the Lake County section of the AOC since mid-1987.
  • Atmospheric Deposition. Atmospheric deposition of toxic substances from fossil fuel burning, waste incineration and evaporation enter the AOC through direct contact with water, surface water runoff and leaching of accumulated materials deposited on land. Toxins from this source include dioxins, PCBs, insecticides and heavy metals.
  • Urban Runoff. Rain water passing over paved urban areas washes grease, oil and toxic organics such as PCBs and PAHs into AOC surface waters.
  • Contaminated Groundwater. Groundwater contaminated with organic compounds, heavy metals and petroleum products contaminates AOC surface waters. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) estimates that at least 16.8 million gallons (63.6 million liters) of oil float on top of groundwater beneath the AOC.

Point sources of contaminants include:

  • Industrial and Municipal Wastewater Discharges. Three steel manufacturers contribute 90% of industrial point source discharges to the AOC. One chemical manufacturer discharges into the AOC. Permitted discharges include arsenic, cadmium, cyanide, copper, chromium, lead and mercury. Three municipal treatment works (Gary, Hammond and East Chicago Sanitary Districts) discharge treated domestic and industrial wastewater into the AOC.
  • Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs). Fifteen CSOs contribute untreated municipal waste, including conventional and toxic pollutants, to the AOC. Annually, CSO outfalls discharge an estimated 11 billion gallons (41.6 billion liters) of raw wastewater into the harbor and river. Approximately 57% of the annual CSO volume is discharged within eight miles (12.9 km) of Lake Michigan, resulting in nearshore fecal coliform contamination.

Beneficial Use Impairments

The Grand Calumet River AOC is impaired for 12 of 14 beneficial use impairments. Removal targets for all 14 were completed in 2008. Two, "Restrictions on drinking water consumption or taste and odor" and "Added cost to agriculture and industry" were removed from the BUI list in 2011 and 2012. "Added cost to agriculture and industry" removal targets were revised as part of the removal process so that the targets were more compatible with guidance from the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement.  The remaining impairments include:

  • Restrictions on fish and wildlife consumption
  • Eutrophication or undesirable algae
  • Tainting of fish and wildlife flavor
  • Degradation of fish and wildlife populations
  • Beach closings
  • Fish tumors or other deformities
  • Degradation of aesthetics
  • Bird or animal deformities or reproduction problems
  • Degradation of benthos
  • Degradation of phytoplankton and zooplankton populations
  • Restriction on dredging activities
  • Loss of fish and wildlife habitat

More detail on the BUIs for the AOC is found at the Grand Calumet BUI page.

Relevant Programs and Statutes

Programs addressing the stressors and contaminants include:

  • Superfund
  • RCRA
  • Clean Water Act
  • WRDA
  • Navigational Dredging
  • Natural Resource Trustee’s Damage Assessment
  • Great Lakes Legacy Act


Key Activities Needed

Key activities needed to 

  • Dredging
  • Habitat restoration
  • BUI Indicator Monitoring

Challenges to AOC restoration

Challenges to AOC restoration include:

  • Local funding and match for federal projects
  • Monitoring resources

Next Steps

More information on the AOC is located at the Grand Calumet River AOC website.