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Hoosier State for Mercury?

By JoshMogerman in News on Apr 17, 2010 8:00PM

Indiana Couple (Crop 2) by Kevin Saff via Flickr
Despite our green image, Chicago doesn’t exactly have the best environmental record. Yeah, there are plenty of bike lanes and green roofs, but we also have one of only two undecontaminated rivers in the nation and no real recycling program. Still, this is a town that at least wants to look like it is moving in the right direction. Just this week the City Council started discussing an ordinance that would finally shutter the city’s two ancient and dangerous coal plants, which have never lived up to the Clean Air Act. And just to the north, Evanston has begun to evaluate the Great Lakes’ first offshore wind farm.

For an eye-popping contrast, look down the Lake Michigan shore just a few miles. In the ongoing effort to eliminate any semblance of environmental enforcement, the Hoosier state announced that they would be eliminating mercury monitoring stations in Northwest Indiana as a cost cutting move. Mercury is that toxic liquid metal spewed into the air by coal plants and heavy industry. It is a neurotoxin that accumulates in the food chain, proving to be especially harmful to the developing brains and nervous systems of small children.

Never mind that the Indiana Dunes monitoring station regularly registered one of the 10 highest mercury concentrations in the nation according to the Post-Tribune. The most galling part of the story is the seeming endangerment of residents and fishermen (who eat ever-more mercury laden fish) to save a whopping $285,000. The State does not even cover the entire mercury monitoring bill; it is split with the U.S. Geological survey.

Sadly, this is just the latest in a line of steady cuts in this area. In recent years Indiana has also stopped paying for local air pollution monitoring in the heavily industrialized and chronically polluted region, leaving many controversial facilities like BP’s Whiting Refinery and US Steel to be tested just only once per year (and in some cases, even less frequently). Recycling program grants were dumped. And the division of Indiana Department of Environmental Management responsible for catching and punishing polluters was eliminated and lumped in with the people responsible for granting pollution permits.

A recent expose in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette shows the likely results of this lack of regard for the Clean Air Act. According to their research the majority of companies monitored for air pollution compliance in the state for violating pollution laws in 2007, remained in violation at the end of last year. And in more than a third of those cases, no action was taken by regulators.

What goes up, must come down. Chicago and Northwest Indiana share an air shed. And, in Lake Michigan, we share a source of drinking water. Guess where that mercury, particulate matter, and other pollutants go.; While it is true, we probably are not environmental angels in the Windy City, it gets a lot worse when you head just south of the South Side.