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Better Air Testing Demanded

Aug 3, 2007

Better air testing demanded


By Gitte Laasby Post-Tribune staff writer

A group of East Chicago residents hope to convince the government to do better air quality monitoring in their neighborhood and will lobby for better pollution control.

The so-called Calumet Project Bucket Brigade took an air sample on July 10 near the intersection of 129th Street and Indianapolis Boulevard in East Chicago. The result was 14 chemicals. Five of them -- acrolein, acrylonitrile, carbon disulfide, styrene and 1,4-dichlorobenzene -- registered well above what other states list as "levels of concern."

When the group announced its results at a news conference in Marktown on Thursday, the results didn't surprise neighborhood residents. But the possible health effects of breathing the chemicals did.

"It doesn't take a scientist to tell it is polluted. You look up in the air, you can see the particles flying. I have two children and my son lately, he's been having all these problems with his throat," said neighborhood resident Angelica Rojas. "Myself and my husband have had problems with our nervous system. We thought it was stress. It's logic to me."

According to an agency under the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, breathing acrolein in large amounts damages the lungs and could cause death. Styrene and acrolynitrile may cause cancer. Carbon disulfide can be life-threatening at very high levels. The other chemicals can affect the nervous system and cause eye and nose irritation, depression and headaches.

Jesse Gomez, councilman at-large with the City of East Chicago, said he was concerned about the findings.

"We really need to do more to protect our environment. This whole area is contaminated, air and ground," Gomez said. "I don't know why someone wants to stay in an area that's so willing to pollute its residents."

Area resident Paul Myers agreed.

"For the last 30 years, we've neglected those quality of life issues," Myers said.

The Calumet Project Bucket Brigade's spokeswoman, Ruth Turpin, said the group is not against industry, but wants it to clean up its own pollution rather than shifting the financial and health-related burden to residents.

"They're trying to shift the cost across the fence to us," Turpin said. "We want people to be informed about what the real costs are. We want 24-hour monitoring."

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management monitors air for toxics, such as the ones in the sample, every six days at four sites in Lake County (Whiting High School, East Chicago, Hammond and Gary) and Ogden Dunes in Porter County. The latest results listed on IDEM's Web site are from May 30 this year.

The East Chicago group would like IDEM or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to monitor the area more frequently because of industry and a confined disposal facility nearby.

Although the samples were taken close to the BP refinery, the group does not have any proof that the toxic chemicals came from BP.

"Was it from a passing truck? Did they have something stored overnight? Did it blow in? We don't know where it came from," Turpin said.

BP spokesman Tom Keilman said the company is in compliance with all federal and state requirements and has not received the group's data or reviewed the sample.

"As for individuals or groups taking air samples, we are not aware of the duration, quality, location or method of their sampling. We encourage them to conduct their activities with the full knowledge and oversight of IDEM, just as we do," Keilman said. "At least one of the constituents reportedly found is not something that is handled or produced by the BP refinery."

Keilman said nearly 50 companies in the same area release toxics.

"BP's corporate philosophy is to operate the Whiting refinery and all of our operations in a manner that is safe, with no harm to the environment and to the neighbors in our communities," he said.

Gomez, who is on an environmental health committee, said he wants to arrange meetings with residents and BP.

Councilman Robert Garcia, 5th District, said he plans to draft a letter to BP to get a response to the findings. He also said he would like IDEM to put an air monitoring device in Marktown.

Results from IDEM's toxics air monitoring are available at


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