Parts of two Indiana cities have officially met federal air quality standards for sulfur dioxide and lead, but recent gains may not tell the whole truth about environmental health in those areas.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the area containing the Perry, Wayne and Center Townships of Indianapolis officially met the 2010 sulfur dioxide air quality standard for the first time since 2013, and a 1.1 sq. mi. portion of Muncie met the 2008 annual lead standard for the first time since 2010.
The EPA and the Indiana Department of Environmental Management also proposed to remove the 2008 ozone standard “nonattainment” status for Lake and Porter Counties.
“Hoosiers across Indiana are breathing cleaner air today because of IDEM’s collaborative partnership with EPA,” said IDEM commissioner Bruno Pigott. “Achieving air quality attainment in Muncie and Indianapolis, along with the proposed air quality redesignations for Lake and Porter Counties, reflects our continuing effort to protect human health and our environment.”
INDIANAPOLIS AREA – SULFUR DIOXIDE
The Indianapolis region reduced its levels of sulfur dioxide below the 75 parts per billion allowed by the 2010 standard by 2016 and submitted a proposal for redesignation a year later.
Sulfur dioxide is released into the air mainly through the burning of fossil fuels by power plants and other industrial facilities. The gases can harm the respiratory system and make breathing difficult. It can also harm trees by damaging foliage and decreasing growth.
IDEM was able to reduce the amount of sulfur dioxide in the Indianapolis area by requiring facilities with annual sulfur dioxide emissions greater than 10 tons per year to comply with several federal air pollution rules, including the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards, National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants for Major Sources and other rules.
In just four years, the sulfur dioxide emissions from the six facilities were greatly reduced.
The installation of new controls allowed the Belmont Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant to cut sulfur dioxide emissions by two-thirds and the Quemetco, Inc. battery recycling facility to reduce its own emissions by about 98% over six years.
The addition of new fuel switches reduced sulfur dioxide emissions at Citizens Thermal by 75% and at the formerly coal-fired Indianapolis Power and Light Harding Street Station 4,064 tons a year.
The Rolls Royce Corp. facility reduced sulfur content, reducing sulfur dioxide emissions by about half. The Vertellus Agriculture and Nutrition Specialties facility was able to reduce emissions by about 97% by adhering to federal and state operational limits.
“Today’s announcement by the EPA and IDEM is an encouraging sign of progress for local environmental protection measures. The decrease in sulfur dioxide levels demonstrates that positive environmental change is possible with community partners dedicated to protecting Indianapolis,” Indianapolis mayor Joe Hogsett said when the redesignation was announced.
MUNCIE AREA – EXIDE TECHNOLOGIES - LEAD
Federal air quality standards also helped the Muncie area improve its lead air pollution.
Lead distributes throughout the body in the blood and collects in bones. Exposure to lead air pollution can affect the nervous system, kidney function, immune system, reproductive and developmental systems and the cardiovascular system.
A 1.1 square mile part of the city’s southwestern outskirts housing the Exide Technologies, a lead acid battery recycling plant, was found to have lead emissions greater than the .15 micrograms per cubic meter allowed by the 2008 lead standard in 2010.
According to court documents, Exide Technologies filed for bankruptcy in 2013. The U.S and the State of Indiana sued the company for alleged Clean Air Act violations.
As part of its bankruptcy proceedings, the company signed a consent decree with the federal government and the State of Indiana where the company would agree to install air pollution control equipment, continue operating existing pollution controls and comply with emission rates.
IDEM was able to reduce the amount of lead being emitted at Exide Technologies between 2013 and 2015 through the strict adherence to lead emission control measures and the federal NESHAP rule for secondary lead smelters.
The area’s lead emission averages fell from nearly .35 micrograms per cubic meter to just above .05 micrograms per cubic meter. The monitoring ended on an emissions spike, with lead emission averages rising just above .10 micrograms per cubic meter.
IDEM submitted a request for redesignation in April 2016, citing the three-year rolling averages as proof it had met the standards.
The area’s redesignation may not signal that its pollution woes are gone.
Between 2015 and early 2018, IDEM found Exide Technologies violated multiple environmental rules, including a failure to perform lead emissions compliance testing of the process baghouse, which collects the dust from the recycling processes at the facility, for two years.
IDEM levied a $69,250 penalty, which the company paid in August 2019.
In July 2017, IDEM also began investigating complaints that the children of two Exide employees had exhibited elevated blood lead levels, but dropped the investigation once it determined it was not an air emissions issue.
The Delaware County Health Department investigated and found that the employees had tracked lead from the facility into their vehicles and their homes. That investigation was referred to the Indiana Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which then levied a $1,933 penalty for a “serious” violation.
People living near the nonattainment area protested Exide Technologies in 2018, saying the plant was making people sick. The protestors demanded that Muncie and the state call for lead testing in the air, soil and groundwater for hundreds of families living near the plant.
Currently, the company is trying to find the source of a leak at the facility’s containment building.
LAKE COUNTY, PORTER COUNTY – OZONE
Ozone is created by the chemical reaction between nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds emitted by cars, power plants and other polluters. Ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and airway inflammation.
Lake and Porter Counties have been in violation of the 2008 8-Hour Ozone Standard since 2012, although both counties have met the standard’s ozone air quality requirement.
The 2008 standard requires an area’s emissions of ozone to not exceed .075 parts per million. It arrives at that average by evaluating the three-year average of the fourth-highest daily maximum 8-hour average ozone concentration measured at each monitor within a nonattainment area each year.
Both Lake and Porter Counties have met that goal at both of each county’s monitoring sites.
Lake County averaged .041 parts per million at its Gary monitoring site and .039 parts per million at its Hammond monitoring site between 2017 and 2019. Porter County averaged .042 parts per million at its Ogden Dunes monitoring station and .042 parts per million at its Valparaiso monitoring station.
Despite individual emissions levels, both counties are counted as being in “serious nonattainment” of the 2008 ozone because they are lumped in with other, more polluting parts of the country. Lake and Porter Counties are part of the EPA’s Chicago-Napierville, Illinois-Indiana-Wisconsin 2008 8-Hour Nonattainment Zone.
The zone was created to uphold older versions of ozone standards, and IDEM is petitioning the EPA to be excluded from the nonattainment zone.
The request was submitted in February and will not be final until the public has an opportunity to comment on the proposal.