posttrib
DECENT 
Weather Updates

IDEM: Air toxins in region lower than previous federal report claimed

Updated: September 3, 2013 7:43AM



A new study from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management shows that the level of air toxins have been improving, and aren’t as high as previous national studies suggest.

The study was presented Wednesday at the Environmental Management Policy Committee at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission and later that day at the Gary Public Library.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified the Northwest Region as a high risk area during its 2005 National Air Toxic Assessment.

But the data in IDEM’s report, which uses a larger set of information, shows improved levels of air toxins compared to the 2005 study.

The results are also comparable to other cities, like Indianapolis; Richmond, Va.; and St. Petersburg, Fla.

“The risk of living in Northwest Indiana is no higher than the risk of any other community that does the same monitoring,” IDEM Commissioner Tom Easterly said.

The study identifies that the level of pollution that causes health risks largely comes from high traffic through the region’s highway system.

The report was based off a similar model used in the 2005 report, but used a larger range of data from more air quality receptors in the region.

Using a model based on exposure over a 70-year lifespan, IDEM’s report determined the risk of cancer is increased by 17.3 cases per million people due to air toxins in the region. That’s down from an estimated 21.4 cases at risk determined from a report developed by the EPA in 2005.

The largest contributor to these risks comes from cars and trucks traveling on the highway, said Jeff Stoakes of IDEM’s Office of Air Quality. Motor vehicles provide a risk of 18.2 cases per million in cancer, compared to point sources like industrial sites in the region at about 4.6 cases per million.

The lower rates on industrial sites can be attributed to increased regulations set by the EPA, since health risks remain low even as industry recovers from the economic recession.

“We’re not saying that the plants are fine,” Stoakes said, “but it’s the mobile sources that are driving the higher risks to health just because of the sheer volume of cars and trucks in the area.”

New regulations set by the EPA will set stricter standards on new vehicles made between 2012 through 2016.

Older models that don’t meet regulations, however, stay on the road, causing a lag in improvements from model sources.

Carpooling and mass transit can also help reduce toxins in the air, Stoakes added.

Non-cancer related health hazards, like respiratory health issues, were higher in IDEM’s report at about 4.2 cases per million people, compared to 0.66 cases in 2005. The increase is likely tied to the difficulty of monitoring a toxin called acrolein, according to IDEM spokesman Dan Goldblatt, caused by vehicles burning organic materials. Current methods may be overestimating the effect of acrolein, and new methods might help correct that bias.

The highest level air toxins in the region include benzene, formaldehyde, hexane and toluene.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.