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Great Lakes Article:

Airing Indiana's pollution woes
The Indiana Star
01/26/2003

Our position is: A state-by-state report on pollution data provides a needed gauge for environmental officials and the public.

Kudos to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group in Washington, D.C., for its comprehensive, state-by-state analysis of air and water pollution data for 1987 to 2000, reported by industries to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Indiana deserves a bit less praise, in light of findings that in 2000, the state ranked as third-worst polluter in the country in the release of cancer-causing chemicals into the air and water. Only Texas and Pennsylvania fared worse.

For the 1987-2000 period, Indiana ranked second in the release of carcinogens; fifth in the release of developmental toxins; seventh in the release of reproductive toxins; sixth in the release of suspected neurological toxins; and sixth in the release of suspected respiratory toxins.

No. 1 on Indiana's air-carcinogen pollution list in 2000 was Carpenter Co. in Elkhart, a plastics foam products manufacturer responsible for the discharge of more than 1.1 million pounds of cancer-causing agents into the air. The next two worst offenders, also in Elkhart, make plastics foam products, too. In fact, of the top 15 carcinogen-releasing firms here in Indiana that year, eight, or 53 percent, manufactured plastic foam, materials or resins.

A few Indianapolis firms made the Top 30 air-carcinogen list in 2000: Horner Electric, 40,000 pounds; Indianapolis Foundry, 39,879 pounds; and Reilly Industries, 38,100 pounds.

To Indiana's credit, companies such as GE Plastics in Mount Vernon have improved dramatically from their miserable rankings in the 1990s, back then among the worse polluters in the country. With federal and state mandates further reducing emissions on such toxins as styrene and methylene chloride, it is hoped the EPA's next Toxics Release Inventory, due out in 2004, will show further improvements.

State monitoring groups, such as the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, are doing their jobs well, as are such groups as U.S. PIRG, the public interest advocacy organization that released the pollutant report.

U.S. PIRG is not just content to report, however; it's currently lobbying for the reintroduction of two important pieces of federal legislation this session.

The first is a proposal for a national health-tracking system with greater monitoring of exposure to dangerous chemicals and a system to warn the public of toxicity health threats.

The second is a bill requiring industrial and chemical facilities to conduct vulnerability and hazard assessments to guard against terrorist attacks. The facilities also would be required to develop plans for improving site security and reducing chemical hazards.

Both proposals are sound policy that would be cost-effective in the long run.

"The Nationwide Health Tracking Act came out of a recommendation from the Pew Environmental Health Commission at the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health," said Meghan Purvis, environmental health associate at U.S. PIRG. "We have been advocating for the Nationwide Health Tracking Act since its inception."

An ounce of prevention is well worth a pound of pollution. Reports such as U.S. PIRG's are among the best ways to gauge how well the nation's industries are following that philosophy.

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