In 2015, a flood of contaminated water used to fight a fire at Indiana’s Warsaw Chemical Company spilled into nearby Winona Lake. The spill carried car wash detergent dyes downhill from the plant, melting the February ice at the lake’s surface and leaving limp silhouettes of bluegill floating in water stained a deep blue.
The spill occurred a few hundred meters from my grandparents’ home, a cottage built by my grandfather with tall windows and an overhang roof. I spent many summers there, swimming in the seaweed-ribboned water beyond the front yard.
My grandmother had lived on Winona for much of her life, teaching elementary school and playing church organ until her death from breast cancer in 2003. My family often wondered whether her illness could be traced back to the factories ringing the lake’s northern shore.
Soon after the spill, authorities conducted tests on Winona to gauge the full extent of the damage. They all came back negative. The chemicals that washed into the lake had vanished, diluted away in the water of my summers.