Air pollution follows industry, for the most part. Northwest Indiana air quality is some of the worst to be found in the county. By redesignating air pollution standards, it’s been made to look as if air quality is really improving. Not enough has been done to stop the pollution, much less clean up the air, and probably won’t until tighter controls are put in place.
Northwest Indiana includes Clark, Floyd, Lake, and Porter Counties. The area is adjacent to the Chicago, IL, metropolitan area. Environmental destruction has plagued northwest Indiana for over a century. Loggers clear-cut forests here and throughout the State. Cheap transportation via Lake Michigan and railways spawned heavily polluting industries such as coke plants, steel mills, power generation facilities, and huge manufacturing operations. Northwest Indiana air quality has been among the worst in the United States. But things are improving.
Environmental quality enforcements have increased fivefold since 1986, when the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) was formed. Indeed, northwest Indiana air quality has met EPA standards for regulated pollutants in recent years, with the notable exceptions of ozone and fine particulate matter
“Non-attainment” of EPA standards for these air pollutants continues stringent permitting requirements for new air pollutant sources. Indiana economic development groups have argued that continued non-attainment status is hindering the state’s economy. Their solution is to simply “redesignate” standards for these air pollutants so that northwest Indiana air quality will suddenly “attain” compliance with EPA regulations.
Environmental groups oppose such arbitrary redesignation of air quality standards for several reasons. Obviously, just saying a goal that is set too low has been met does not improve air quality. Also, the proponents of redesignation wish to separate northwest Indiana air quality management from its current regional management, treating Lake and Porter Counties as if they were sealed jars of air instead of integral parts of a highly interactive region of air flows and pollution sources.
Lake and Porter Counties are home to all of the steel mill sinter plants in Indiana. These counties were listed as “severe nonattainment” areas for ground-level ozone under the old air quality standards. Since 2004, they have been redesignated “moderate nonattainment” areas. Effectively, the counties are deemed closer to compliance without actually reducing air pollution.
Still, nonattainment is nonattainment. Permits for new pollution sources are still scrutinized closely. Reductions in emissions from existing sources within a nonattainment area may be required before permits are granted for a new source within the same nonattainment area. This is known as the “emission offset” requirement.
Industry is not the only polluter of northwest Indiana air quality. Wood-burning boilers, popular water and space heating alternatives to oil in the northern part of the state, contribute disproportionate amounts of fine particulates, carbon monoxide, benzene, formaldehyde, and many known carcinogenic compounds.
The design of wood boilers increases their deleterious effects on northwest Indiana air quality. First, they burn wood at relatively low temperatures, generating much greater volumes of fine particulates and volatile organic compounds. Second, their smoke stacks are short, discharging large volumes of wood smoke near the ground where it remains. Third, they are built close to buildings to avoid heat loss during transfer of heated water to the buildings, concentrating air pollutants near people.
Some alternatives to petroleum, such as wood boilers, may reduce dependence upon foreign oil and reduce carbon petroleum pollution. But the cure can be worse than the disease. It’s past time for manufacturers and other industries to find alternatives to petroleum for fuel if sorthwest Indiana air quality is to really improve.