Calumet River at 102nd Street Early 1900's



Calumet River Use and Abuse
The Calumet River has been rearranged by human action. The original mouth near Miller was blocked and a channel was dug from the river near Hegewisch to about 90th Street in South Chicago. The river was reversed to flow away from Lake Michigan. There have been massive changes through widening, straightening, and deepening the channel and through dredging and filling at Lake Calumet. Early industrial development included factories which shipped goods on the river, an early lumberyard, and other businesses. Later the steel industry, refineries, soap, paint, chemical, and cement plants were constructed. The older mills especially caused incredible air and water pollution. Dirt and grime covered the surrounding communities. There were tons of waste materials and inevitably much of it ended up in the river. Vacant marshes in the area provided space for disposal of wastes, for raw material storage, and if filled, space for further industrial development. 

Between 1869 and 1921 the quality of the Calumet region was deeply altered. As industrial production increased, companies used customary practices of the era for removing industrial wastes. Liquids and some solids were dumped in the waterways, usually untreated. Hundreds of acres of wetlands and shoreline were altered and often ruined. Solid wastes were dumped in marsh areas. Mills produced large amounts of phenols and cyanides and expelled them into the water. Pickle liquors were another source of wastes. They were sulphuric acid solutions used to remove rust from steel. Solid waste was removed to vacant land near the factories and dumped. Domestic sewage tainted water supplies and cholera and typhoid epidemics occurred. Various paint, chemical, and oil manufacturers contributed to waste production. There was evidence of muriatic, sulphuric, and nitric acid from these factories

There are other things that often pollute the Calumet River that contribute to its abuses. Acid rain contaminates the water and toxic chemicals that are in the water often kill the life forms in the water. There are numerous hazardous waste sites around the main area of concern near the Calumet River, regulated under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) , such as landfills or surface impoundments where hazardous waste is disposed . There are more than 460 underground storage tanks in the area of concern near the Calumet River. Atmospheric deposition of toxic substances from fossil fuel burning, waste incineration and evaporation enter the Calumet River through direct contact with the water, surface water runoff and leaching of the accumulated materials deposited on land. Toxins from this source include dioxins, PCBs, insecticides and heavy metals. Groundwater contaminated with organic compounds, heavy metals and petroleum products contaminate the Great Calumet River surface water . (Article by Celina O. and Jacqueline C.  Information from Industrial Wastes in the Calumet Area by Craig Colton and various web sites)



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Lake Calumet


Lake Calumet Looking Southeast

Major changes have been made in Lake Calumet as commercial and industrial development took place. Some of Lake Calumet was filled in for portions of Pullman. The northeast portion was cut off by the building of railroad from Hammond, Indiana to Irondale and then to the Illinois Central at Burnside in the 1880's. The western portion was filled in for the highway construction and later for the Calumet (now the Bishop Ford) Expressway. The northern third was filled in for a city of Chicago garbage dump. The development of the Saint Lawrence Seaway resulted in dredging portions of Lake Calumet to the depth of 26 feet to accommodate the ocean ships.