Law stalls efforts
to monitor air toxins
When monitoring machines detected high levels
of vinylidene chloride in the air near Evansville in 1999,
state environmental officials were concerned.
Repeated exposure to the chemical, used in
plastics manufacturing, can cause liver damage, and the
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it may cause
cancer. But where was it coming from?
Three years later, officials still don't know.
What's more, they don't have the authority to find out.
For seven years, the Indiana Department of
Environmental Management has been trying to write rules
that would require industries to report emissions of a
host of hazardous air pollutants and allow the agency
to request information if it had a specific concern, like
that in Evansville.
But after protests from industry, state legislators
this year passed a law barring the department from requiring
blanket reporting on toxins. Instead, the law required
that reporting be tied to specific health objectives,
that the department form a group with representatives
from environmental and industry groups to work on the
rule, and that the agency write a five-year plan for monitoring
air toxins. It also forbade the agency to collect new
data until 2004.
State officials say that ultimately, the changes
will lead to a better plan. But in the meantime, the lack
of a rule ties their hands in investigations like the
one in Evansville.
"There was only so far we could go in
our investigation," said Janet McCabe, the department's
assistant commissioner for air quality.
Currently, the state requires industries to
report emissions of six "criteria pollutants"
-- carbon monoxide, lead, particulates, sulfur dioxide,
nitrogen dioxide and ozone -- regulated by the federal
Clean Air Act. The environmental department proposed that
industries begin reporting emission levels for 58 additional
pollutants that are emitted at high levels in Indiana.
The agency wants the authority to request
information on a particular chemical from industries within
a given area or from a specific manufacturer, McCabe said.
Although the federal government requires that
many toxins, including some the state wants to track,
be reported to its Toxics Release Inventory, state officials
have no authority to request specific information from
companies that report to the inventory. In addition, some
chemicals are not tracked by the federal list, and some
industries that are not required to report to the federal
government would be required to report to the state.
In 2000, the inventory showed that Indiana
industries released 90 million pounds of toxins into the
air. None reported emitting vinylidene chloride, the chemical
found in Evansville, McCabe said.
The omission illustrates why the state wants
to track specific toxins, she said. The state has identified
27 counties from which it wants more information.
"Indiana has high reported levels of
toxic emissions . . . and many of them are identified
as carcinogens or probable carcinogens," McCabe said.
"There are some areas and pollutants we need to be
But lawmakers wanted to ensure that the department
didn't simply amass information without identifying specific
health concerns, or with no long-term plan for how it
would use the information, said state Rep. Jonathan Weinzapfel,
D-Evansville. He is chairman of the Environmental Quality
Service Council, a panel of lawmakers that considers environmental
"There ought to be a plan for how the
information is to be utilized and how it is communicated
to people," he said. "Instead of simply a data
collection regulation, this is an opportunity to really
create so much more that is a benefit to public health
Patrick Bennett, director of environmental
affairs for the Indiana Manufacturers Association, said
industry officials support efforts to protect Hoosiers'
health. But they were concerned that the detail required
under the department's original proposal would have been
costly to compile.
"We didn't want them to collect a bunch
of data that wouldn't be used for anything," he said.
"The focus with us was on what they were trying to
achieve in the reporting scheme. Let's go to a problem
area rather than all industries in the state reporting
to a finite level."
McCabe's office is expected to complete a
final report on the five-year plan by the end of October.
She acknowledged that even with the collection of additional
information, there is no guarantee the state could directly
connect health problems to a specific toxin or source
because other things may cause similar problems. But that
doesn't mean the state shouldn't try to reduce the risk
from air pollutants, she said.
She noted that the EPA is considering requiring
states to adopt rules to monitor hazardous air pollutants.
Even with the 2004 date for collecting new data, she said,
Indiana would be ahead of the federal effort. Only seven
other states have implemented such rules.
"We feel it is our responsibility to
determine if any risks remain to public health,"
McCabe said. "We think there are particular needs
in Indiana that make it the responsible thing for us to
do to move ahead and not wait for EPA on this."
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