Lake Michigan and its associated waterways are quite literally everything to the Region.

So determining a cause of chemical contamination, including cyanide, into that water system last week and devising better safeguards to prevent it from happening again should be front and center for environmental and industry leaders.

A full probe also is needed into complaints the public wasn't notified in a timely manner, possibly putting health at risk.

At the center of this probe should be absolute public transparency.

The lake sustains us with a bountiful source of drinking water.

The beauty of the lake and associated waterways are the biggest recreational, quality-of-life and tourism draw for Northwest Indiana, including the aesthetic dunes of the newly anointed Indiana Dunes National Park and Indiana Dunes State Park.

Heavy industry also is part of the Region's economic lifeblood.

But the environmental integrity of our great lake and its connected waterways cannot be put at such risk.

It's good major Region steelmaker ArcelorMittal took full responsibility for what it deemed a chemical spill last week.

But why and how did it happen to begin with, and what will be done to keep it from occurring again?

The spill led to a massive fish kill in the Little Calumet River in Portage and closed down a number of beaches.

The company said the incident happened "despite having safeguards in place and conducting regular sampling in accordance with permits."

"We are working closely with state and federal regulatory agencies to address the situation and to prevent its reoccurrence," a written statement from the company said.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management directed ArcellorMittal to identify the cause of the exceedances, and ArcellorMittal told IDEM that its blast furnace closed water loop station failed, according to the statement.

Cleanup efforts were slated to be completed by Saturday.

Even more disturbing are reports regarding notifications of the public, or lack thereof, in this mess.

Portage Mayor John Cannon has accused state environmental officials and others of waiting several days before notifying the city of the contamination.

He contends IDEM and others were made aware of the problem Monday, but the city was not informed until Thursday.

This is a serious accusation against the system meant to safeguard our most precious asset and the people who use it for its multitude of purposes.

Dave Benjamin, executive director of the Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, said there were no warnings for surfers to stay out of the water Thursday.

"And now they are concerned about long-term health risks of this possible exposure," Benjamin said.

The state has provided some answers, but many more are needed.

The public must be confident of the systems in place to prevent environmental threats to our very essence.

Right now, this confidence must be restored by the responsible parties.
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