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Sunday, February 22, 2004

Environment - Indianapolis Neighborhood at Risk

The Indianapolis Star this Sunday has devoted an amazing amount of its news space to the start of a series titled "Special Report: Neighborhood at Risk," targeting the neighborhoods located in the "industrial hub" of Indianapolis - the southwest side. How much space? Four-fifths of the front page, plus 5 full pages inside the front section. This includes a full-page graphic described as "A look at the southwest side neighborhoods at risk from toxic air pollution and a listing of major industries and the toxins they release."

The lead story, titled "Toxic air raises unhealthy odds: Lung cancer death rate in industrial hub far exceeds Marion County's as a whole," may be found here. It begins:

Tucked among the thicket of manufacturing plants on Indianapolis' southwest side is a patchwork of tidy homes -- oases of green softening the gritty, gray expanse.

Generations of working-class residents have raised families on streets where houses aren't fancy, but affordable, and people know their neighbors. There are no big shopping malls, no new subdivisions. But there are factories that make aircraft engines and automobile engine blocks, medicine and chemicals.

Some quotes from about two-thirds through the main story relate to reliance on a U.S. EPA study released "two years ago showing that residents on the southwest side had some of the highest cancer risks in the United States from hazardous air pollution emitted by major industries." One objection is that:
the data are from one year -- 1996 -- and don't reflect reductions made by industries since then.

Rolls-Royce, for example, stopped using the toxic chemical methylene chloride to clean grime from airplane engine parts by the end of 1998, reducing the use of that chemical by 11,000 gallons a year. It now uses mostly water-based solvents to do the job.

At Reilly Industries, tying chemical tanks together, sealing connections where pipes meet, putting in backup valves and numerous other steps have reduced emissions of formaldehyde, ammonia, benzene and other chemicals, said Reilly Vice President Jacqueline A. Simmons. Through changes to one process in 1996, the company said, it reduced benzene emissions by 14,000 pounds per year.

As to whether the State investigated the problems after the EPA report was released:
Janet McCabe, the environmental agency's [IDEM's] assistant commissioner for air quality, said the agency wants to determine whether the risks are accurate but doesn't have the money to buy an air monitor to measure for chromium and other heavy metals in the neighborhood. The agency applied for a $70,000 federal grant last spring but was turned down; she said it plans to apply again but has not asked lawmakers for the money.

Some local industry officials, though, said they would welcome air monitoring and might be willing to help pay. "We actually are in favor of more data-gathering," said Simmons, the Reilly vice president. "We believe the data would show that people are at much less risk than the modeling shows."

A follow-up EPA study, due out this summer, will calculate risks for more than 150 toxic pollutants, perhaps offering a clearer picture of the risks on the southwest side and across the nation.

As for other state and local officials, according to the Star:
The State Department of Health and city officials have said they see no immediate need for a closer look at the risks identified in the 2002 EPA report.

John B. Chavez, administrator of Indianapolis' office of environmental services, the Department of Public Works branch that ensures industries comply with state and federal environmental regulations, said he did not plan to try to investigate the findings.

"I'm not saying . . . that we should just say, 'OK, there's not an issue here' and walk away from it. But when you have a very limited amount of staff and a limited amount of resources, you need to make priorities," Chavez said. "We would need to just see if more readily available data would indicate that there is a problem. But at this point, I don't have it in my plans."

Coming Monday: "People living on the southwest side face health risks from pollution because industry and neighborhoods were allowed to grow together, and officials failed to respond to warnings and residents' concerns."

Posted by Marcia Oddi on February 22, 2004 08:15 AM
Posted to Environmental Issues