Betsy Dent of Calumet Project with one of the Buckets
The Bucket Brigade is the brain child of Denny Larson of the Community Global Monitor.
“The “Bucket Brigade” is a simple, but effective, tool that dozens of communities are using to find out for themselves what chemicals are in the air. Armed with their own data and information about the health effects of chemicals, these communities are winning impressive reductions of pollution, safety improvements and increasing enforcement of environmental laws.
The “Bucket Brigade” is named for a easy to use air sampling device housed inside a 5 gallon plastic bucket. The “Bucket” was developed in Northern California in 1995 by an environmental engineering firm in order to simplify and reduce the costs of widely accepted methods used for testing toxic gases in the air”
The Bucket Brigade was brought to East Chicago by the Calumet Project to help monitor the discharges from the construction of a confined deposal facility (CDF), the dredging of the Indiana Harbor Shipping Canal (arguably the most polluted waterway in the country), and the long term management of the site. They have also looked at BP discharges.
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.”
For the past seven summers our family has been going to Whilhala beach in Whiting for an evening walk or a swim. This summer we got a pool and the weather has been too cool so we haven’t gone until Tuesday. On Tuesday the kids and I decided to go for a nice end of the day swim in the lake after swimming all day in the pool. When we got to the beach we found they had changed their policies and closed the beach area at 6 pm. We couldn’t even take a walk. The kids were disappointed, not only could they not go swimming that evening, but something they have always taken for granted suddenly came to an end. My answer to their cries at that moment was to agree with them – it wasn’t right and I didn’t understand why they closed the beach, but to make it up to them I promised to take them to Indiana Dunes the next day – Thursday.
Increased gang activity has forced the county to close the Hammond side of Whihala Beach until further notice, a Lake County parks official said Tuesday.
The following day the kids and I got up and prepared for a day at the Dunes. When we got to the park, they were eager to get into the water. I slowed them down a bit by diverting their attention to hiking first.
This is perhaps my favorite view of Lake Michigan from its southern shores. From here you can imagine the beauty that once was throughout this spectacular region.
Once the kids made their way to the beach they were in the water immediately. Unfortunately, it was no more than 5 minutes later that a voice announced that all swimmers had to come out of the water – the water was too polluted for their safety. I could see the frustration race across Marta’s face. Moments before this video she was in tears.
I could not be more disappointed in my community leaders. I am tired of fighting to stop them from ignoring the problems, problems for which they are directly responsible and from which they benefit.
The Testing the Waters report, released Wednesday by the National Resources Defense Council, shows that beaches in Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties had advisories for bacteria or were closed because of bacteria 333 times in 2008, a 56 percent increase from the 213 events in 2007.
That’s up from 111 advisories and closings in 2006.
Overall, 18 percent of the beach samples taken in Indiana last year had bacteria levels higher than the recommended levels. That put the state 28th of the 32 states tested. The report includes samples from any coastal, bay or Great Lakes state.
Anderson said not knowing the source of the pollutants makes it hard for local officials and groups to fight the problem.
“It’s like where should we focus something if we don’t know where it’s coming from?” Anderson said.
He called for source testing to be included in the study, but that has its own problems. The federal act that requires the testing does not provide funding for source testing, said Amber Finkelstein, a public information officer for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Low-cost solutions for bringing down bacteria levels are available, however, Anderson said. He pointed to Michigan City, which recently prohibited people from feeding birds and bought lids for garbage cans.
It might be prudent here to mention that “Save the Dunes” recently received a large grant from BP. Oh, and may be I ought to mention that Tom Anderson serves on the Indiana Air pollution Control Board. The same board that recently re-designated Northwest Indiana from a Non-attainment zone to an attainment zone for Sulfur Dioxide. It may also be important to know that BP is presently retooling its Whiting refinery to process the high sulfur product coming out of the Alberta Tar Sands. Anyhow, I always thought Tom meant well.
Knowing that the water current flows counter clockwise in Lake Michigan, it is not hard to imagine who the source could be, especially with such acutely high levels of bacteria over 600/100ml.
Two views of Burns Harbor: 1) Looking west from the Indiana Dunes State Park, and 2) satellite image
Then there is this very glaring problem. I suppose most communities would have dealt with this in a previous era. Yes that is a known contaminated creek flushing right into the middle of the state beach. When it reaches the lake IDEM expects that “Dilution will be the Solution” to keep bathers safe. We wouldn’t have it any other way in Northwest Indiana. Do you suppose this could have a negative effect on tourism?
The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report “Testing the Waters 2009” tends to take a national perspective when it comes to the problem of identifying the main sources of pollution causing the beach closings. Nationally “Runoff” accounts for 36% of the sources of pollution, with 62% as unknown. However, in Indiana 99% of the source of contamination is considered “unknown.” In my mind this is a criminal disregard for the health of the public. The same “unknown” used to defend the largest landowners with the greatest intensive uses on Indiana’s Urban Lake Front.
More than 90% of our urban Lakefront is owned by three large industries; BP Whiting – the largest oil refinery in the Midwest, Arcelormittal – the largest integrated Steel Mill in the Country, and U.S. Steel – the second largest Steel Mill. Additionally the big three own the majority rights to our air and watersheds. If there is a major environmental problem, you can generally point to them as the source. They are also effective at using the marginal effects of non-point source pollution such as surface runoff and vehicular pollution to offset criticisms of their discharges. IDEM repeats these same constructed arguments. Granted runoff is a large contributor to the problem, but we also know from whom the contaminants are running.
View of Shoreline Industries from the breakwall at the Hammond Marina
IDEM regulates both industrial and municipal discharges. The cities are not with out fault. They have yet to separate storm water from their sewage systems which contributes to the surface runoff problem. To know the source is easy, to not – is to ignore the problem.
“there is no need for recreation or commercial fishing in the Great Lakes because there were never any natural fisheries here. The Great Lakes are no better than stocked ponds.”
With one of the highest concentrations of heavy industries in the country, It follows that Indiana’s urban Lake front would also see some of the highest levels of pollution. And in fact the data bares this out. Not only do we know that the indiana Harbor Shipping Canal is the most polluted waterway in the country, but according to the NRDC Study “Testing the Waters 2008” East Chicago’s Jeorse Park Beach ranks third in the nation, and first in Great Lakes, for exceeding Daily National Standards. The geographical center of BP, Mittal and US Steel is East Chicago’s Joerse Park Beach. This make Joerse Park Beach ground zero for some of the highest levels of pollutants in beach waters in the country.
<Clearing the Waters>
The source of pollution is ignorance and we know who the agents of ignorance are. They are self interested community and industrial leaders, who like to pretend that the problems stem from decisions made by “the public.” The source of our pollution is the same as the source of our public corruption. They go hand in hand. The only difference is that the private actors in this dance do not go to jail.
This evening I happened to click on the East Chicago Public Government Channel which for all purposes has been the Mayor’s personal campaign channel. But to my enormous surprise this evening they were running this wonderful documentary “Liquid Assets.” I don’t know who coordinated the broadcast, but I was thrilled to see something of real substance and value to the community on the channel. Very Good.
Liquid Assets is a public media and outreach initiative that seeks to inform the nation about the critical role that our water infrastructure plays in protecting public health and promoting economic prosperity.
Combining a ninety-minute documentary with a community toolkit for facilitating local involvement, Liquid Assets explores the history, engineering, and political and economic challenges of our water infrastructure, and engages communities in local discussion about public water and wastewater issues.
For the past five years I have repeatedly spoken about the correlation between Education Attainment and the Unemployment rate and what that means for East Chicagoans. But first some data on East Chicago:
Today <2% of East Chicagoans hold a college degree, well below the national average of 24%.
~40% of the Adult population is considered functionally illiterate, with ~70% of adults incapable of attaining a professional job based on reading attainment.
Today the unemployment rate in East Chicago is >24%. Despite the efforts of the city to employ ~12% of those in the workforce, serving ~18% of households with a paycheck and ~28% of the electorate with a city job.
For a community like East Chicago the data presented in the graphs below are especially poignant. What I find rather remarkable about the graph is that you can clearly see, in the last 17 years, as educational attainment increases the less vulnerable you are to market fluctuations. You can see how the red line is so much more eradicate with a steep increase in reaction to todays recession. This may begin to flatten out as America rededicates more of it economy to manufacturing. Yet, unlike 20 years ago manufacturing has become an educated affair, requiring at minimum an associates degree.
Forty years ago when nearly 70% of jobs were found in unskilled labor, most East Chicago graduates were able to go to the Mills for one of a 100,000 steel or steel related jobs in East Chicago. Today 70% of jobs are found in professional services that require a College education. With the advances in technology and globalization East Chicago now employs less than 5,000 workers in steel and steel related jobs, all while production has increased a hundred fold. So, if you are preparing a population for where the vast majority of the jobs are (70%), then you are preparing them to receive a College education. That is the easiest solution towards employing a population. The more difficult solution is to find jobs for the under-educated.
This data does not bode well for East Chicago’s education system (here, and here) which ranks last in the state of Indiana on multiply measures. Indiana has also instituted a Core-40 program to track students and to ensure they receive the necessary skills to succeed. However, Core-40 will leave most East Chicago students without the proper credentials to apply to universities such as Purdue or Indiana University which now require Core-40 Honors. Despite the efforts of non-government agencies most parents of East Chicago freshmen are unaware of these requirements and the process for applying into the proper program. The Challenge is to set up an education system that incentives populations like East Chicago.
CROWN POINT | The Hammond-based Calumet Project and the California-based Global Community Monitor, have notified BP Whiting Refinery of their intention to sue under citizen suit provisions of the federal Clean Air Act.
The potential lawsuit will press for penalties that could total more than $30 million.
INDIANAPOLIS | East Chicago will receive $1.9 million to bolster its long-term revitalization plan for the North Harbor neighborhood, Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman announced Wednesday.
“That’s a great number for us,” said John Artis, executive director of the East Chicago Redevelopment Department. “The money the state is going to be providing to us will go a long ways toward furthering the vision we have for the North Harbor redevelopment initiative.”
The federal neighborhood revitalization dollars will help finance new residential construction, including a 60-unit building for seniors, rental properties and townhouses available to buy. It’s part of a major overhaul of the neighborhood centered at Broadway and Main.
The city, which had requested $4.6 million, currently is developing 75 townhouses, and it has spent more than $10 million on park and street improvements in North Harbor since 2006. A zoning change prohibits bars and liquor stores from locating in the neighborhood.
The city is working with The Community Builders and the Hispanic Housing Development Corp., both nonprofits. East Chicago is one of 21 communities that will share $50 million in neighborhood revitalization funding Indiana received last fall.
By Gitte Laasby, Post-Tribune staff writer (The only legitimate Environmental Reporter in the Region)
For nearly six years, BP’s Whiting refinery emitted cancer-causing benzene at its wastewater treatment plant without proper air pollution control equipment, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
There is a saying “You are what you eat.” But what about what you breath or drink?
What bothers me intensely about this report is that the USEPA allowed these releases to continue for six years before citing BP on such an egregious violation the of the Clean Air Act. That is six years to which MY NEW BORN CHILDREN were chronically exposed. And the USEPA knew every day that they were being exposed and did NOTHING. This is a toxin that we know one part per billion can cause cancer.
Additionally, during the permitting process for the BP Expansion these past several years the USEPA never disclosed these violations, but defended and promoted BP’s clean record of good environmental stewardship in the region. Consequently, East Chicago awarded BP $165 million in tax abatements. All while the EPA held evidence that BP was exposing the residence to such high levels of toxins.
UPDATE (On the Wire):
WASHINGTON | Members of Congress’ Great Lakes Caucus are asking the Environmental Protection Agency to review all of BP’s emissions after reports that the BP Whiting Refinery has been violating clean air standards.
In a letter, 18 members of Congress from Illinois, New York, Wisconsin and Michigan asked EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to closely examine BP’s emissions.
BP’s facility in Whiting is the largest oil refinery in the Midwest. Its critics say it also is a large source of pollution in the Great Lakes region.
Members of the caucus tell Jackson that the Great Lakes are “the crown jewel of our nation” and should be protected. They say the EPA should ensure that BP fully complies with the environmental protection laws and permits.
The EPA on Tuesday cited the Whiting Refinery for violating federal air standards by releasing a cancer-causing toxin in waste from 2003 to 2008, which at times reached 16 times the acceptable limit, EPA officials said.
I find it curious that there are no East Chicago Elected Officials asking for answers? Our Mayor and City Council represent the health and welfare of Citizens of East Chicago who live under the plumb of BP’s violations. And where is the voice of the City’s Health Commissioner on this issue? Of any population East Chicagoan’s are the most exposed and their children the most vulnerable – not the Residents of Illinois, Wisconsin or Michigan. And yet their representatives understand the gravity of the violation and the threat it poses to the health and welfare of the populations they represent. They are the ones asking for answer while East Chicago and Northwest Indiana Elected Officials remain silent.
Why the Silence?
This is a serious violation of the clear Air act and our Elected Officials ought to be associated with the asking for answers.
For more than 12 years, ArcelorMittal has met regularly with residents and other stakeholders to discuss how the company can improve its environmental performance and address concerns about anything from noise to permits.
But information might be less available as a result of a class-action lawsuit that Crown Point dad Ron Kurth filed March 25 against Lake County’s 11 biggest polluters, including ArcelorMittal. The lawsuit says the pollution causes increased risk of lung cancer, mental disabilities and other illnesses for Lake County students.
“Black Geography” is a term I never heard until I came to this region. It is often spoken by whites in regional leadership position and is used to describe all sorts of things, from behavior, to business practices, and governance. I guess if there is “Black Geography” there must be a “White Geography”, a “Hispanic Geography”, and a “Serbian Geography”, etc.
How do you help a community when the Mayor and his cohorts are under indictment. Can you believe the projects he has put forward are critical to the well being of the community?
There are many critical issues that could be addressed with the proper funding. I would like to look at one vital issue – The Grand Calumet River.
East Chicago is home to the Grand Calumet River, considered THE MOST polluted waterway in the country, which feeds into the Lake Michigan – the source of our drinking water. The leading cause contamination – 100 years of INDUSTRY. East Chicago also has the poorest census tracts in the state. Maybe government agencies ought to begin to do something about it. Like a PUBLIC / PRIVATE partnership (before this industry declares bankruptcy and wiggles out of responsibility).
After 30 years of the Clear Water Act not a single effort has been initiated to clear this body of water -The plans are there, the funding is not. So why isn’t cleaning of the Grand Calumet river apart of the Stimulus plan? I believe it is shovel ready.
Cleaning this river would stimulate new uses and open opportunities to the communities along its banks. The multipliers of this project are rich with opportunities, but so long as this polluted body of water continues to run through our community, opportunities will run dry. Just a thought.
The Marque project in the region is the Marquette Plan. From a previous post, here is what is happening in Portage: a middle-class community
This is from a $250 million U.S. Army Corp project in East Chicago that I oversaw for a short period of time on behalf of the local community. Those are hundreds of petroleum pipes siting underground at the site of a defunct oil refinery. In an attempt to contain some of the underground contamination from spreading, these men are tasked to cut the pipes out to make room for a slurry wall of clay. The wall will go down below the the water table and tie into clay. Notice the fire extinguisher? – I really don’t think it help in the event they spark any product left in those pipes.
Yesterday I took this series of photos, on the ride to my kids school. You may find a blurring in the foreground, as the vehicle was often moving. The trip brings them from East Chicago to Hyde Park daily – through some of the heaviest industries (past Mittal Steel, past SafetyKleen, and through BP). This is the usual scene for anyone traveling north on route 41 (what Lakeshore drive turns into south of Hyde Park) to Chicago from Northwest Indiana. I didn’t include all the tank farms, the combine disposal facility, casinos, the industries in Hammond (Cargil, Lever Bothers), or images of Hyde Park. At some point I actually had to drive. My Children stratal many radically different worlds.
There are two things that strike me about these images.
Everyone is releasing something into the air-shed and contributing to the aggregate air problems.
The vehicles seem to be from a bygone era. They date the images as the past.
Back in 2007 again, and coming at environmental advocacy from a different angle. The negative impacts are not all environmental they were also financial. In a community with the poorest census tracks in the state, yet paying the highest property taxes in the state at 8.45% this give-away to BP (without any job creation for East Chicagoans) is insane.
In fact we know that the project will lower residential property values and cap incremental increases in the future.
At some point when an entire regional establishment is behind an apparent train-wreck and you can not find anyone to help you understand the situation or step forward with you, you try to take tentative steps to create a space for dialogue. And then, if you receive a visitor to your office who goes into detail the history of “Political Assassinations” in East Chicago for much smaller things – you ask yourself WTF. So you can see I am not quite over this…
In response, I did these designs during the local Mayoral election. I produced them as postcards, but couldn’t finance any billboards. I am still trying to figure out what is the best way to go about this kind of advocacy here in East Chicago and NWI. With this population visual communication is very important to getting your message across. I intended to draw a direct equation between our politicians and the result of their actions. Many local opposition leaders and environmental types liked the images but recoiled from the directness of the attack. Perhaps the visitor to my office explains why. I considered doing projections on buildings and street art, but abandoned the ideas do to the amount of commitment they would take.
Political Corruption and the Corruption/Contamination of our Environment
The tight relationship between certain environmental organization, industries, non-profits, media and government
Who are environmentalist to judge issues of economic development and jobs, and why do they do it?
Is there a better way to include other measurables, such as environment and culture, in a cost/benefit analysis?
Is there a way to marry development opportunities with addressing environmental or cultural impairments?
Should this be the end of the incrementalist approach to environmental management?
Case Study: The BP Expansion in East Chicago – Lessons Learned
This is an example of the enormity of an issue that East Chicagoans face and are unprepared to deal with. In most part, the region is also unprepared to deal with the enormity of this kind of issue. Of the many tremendous impairments in this industrial region and in East Chicago specifically, the severe degradation of the environment stands as one of it most important issues, and triggers an array of environmental justice issues. For any well intended and brilliant individual, the complexity and depth of any single issue requires an almost lifetime commitment, enduring long periods without success – as in the eight years of the Bush administration.
Let me state from the get-go that my opinion on the BP project is NOT framed by a desire to Shut them down. I am more interested in evaluating what occurred against a clear need to reverse the environmental tread in this area and use every project to advance an agenda to address the serious impacts a hundred years of Industrial development has had on the immediate area. When evaluating the permitting process for the BP expansion project in East Chicago, I am concerned first and foremost about what happened in the environmental community. In an adversary process I expect Industry to work to maximize its interests, but I do not expect to hear nothing from the environmental community. So what happened?
How and why did the environmental community fail to vigorously participate and advocate for the environmental health and welfare of the community?
Has years of industry organizing opposition to its own projects completely neutered the environmental community?
Are our local environmentalist out-numbered, out-skilled, and out-spent by industry?
Are legitimate environmental voices marginalize by the process or lost in the noise?
Does the process marginalize some environmental voices or concerns over others? if so which and why?
Has the region, which is dependent on heavy and enormously dangerous industries, compromised and severely weaken the environmental community?
Does the environmental community need to rebuild its capacity to serve as a legitimate voice on environmental issues?
Despite the hidden fact that the permit was in clear violation of the Clean Water Act, the debate surrounding the expansion of BP Refinery in East Chicago did not occur in Indiana and it did not occur prior to IDEM and the EPA approving the NPDES (water discharge) permit. The debate occurred in Illinois and elsewhere after the permit was approved. I guess BP just forgot to pay-off members of the political establishment on the other side of the boarder. So Dick Durbin and Rahm Emanuel orchestrated a very public petition drive. And so the politician in Illinois got something.
So why was there so little opposition to the project in Indiana? Few people were even aware of the application for the permit, let alone concerned about the levels of discharge and the increased negative impact on the environment. On the political side, Mayor Pabey and the Director of Redevelopment both articulated that BP had promised to do a lot for the East Chicago. The only problem was that the promises were not in a any formal document I have seen by anyone. BP had already got the buy-in of prominent environmental groups (Lee Botts, Tom Anderson of Save the Dunes, the Hoosier Environmental Council, and Dunelands Sierra Club) long ago, or at least until Illinois made a fuss over it? Once that occurred Lee Botts went on the radio, and penned several defenses on her actions, and Tom Anderson joined in the petition drive against the permit.
What is important is where were the Environmentalist before the permit was approved? We know they were at the table and informed on the project by Kay Nelson of the Northwest Indiana Forum. So, if they had any concerns about the permit before it was approved, why didn’t they inform the public?
So why did the Save the Dunes, the Hoosier Environmental Council, and the Sierra Club remain silent during the permitting process?
Lee Botts: considered one of the most important environmentalist in the region, an expert on the Great Lakes and the environmental representative on the State Water Pollution Control Board, never made a public statement about the project.
Tom Anderson: Director of Save the Dunes and the environmental representative on the State Air Pollution Control Board, also never took a public position against the project.
What were Lee Botts and Tom Anderson doing prior to the approval?
– Lee Botts says she tried to get the word out to the public. But where and when did she speak or write anything. When their is an issue she wants speak up on she has no problem penning a guest column in the Local papers.
– Tom Anderson was involved in re-designating the region as an attainment zone for sulfur dioxide just months prior to the announcement of the BP permit. This was an important designation for BP because they were looking to refine a high-sulfur product coming out of the tar-sands in Alberta Canada and needed access to more of the air-shed.
Once the debate began, third party environmental groups (The Great Lakes Alliance – Affiliated with Lee Botts, and National Defense Fund) mobilized to negotiate a terms between BP and some undefined “PUBLIC.”