Chesterton Tribune

IDEM's latest failure to protect public needs more scrutiny

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Guest Commentary

By DEBORAH CHUBB

I know that many in the state have circled the wagons around IDEM to protect them from all of the criticism they receive about issuing permits to increase lake pollution that fly in the face of the Clean Water Act. However, we should remember that it is their job to protect Indiana’s environment for the safety and better health of the public – you and me.

Unfortunately, their latest failure to protect us has not been widely publicized.

The Clean Water Act requires IDEM to prepare, for the public, a list of impaired waters in our state every two years. “Impaired” means contaminated with pollutants (lead, mercury, cyanide among others) such that the waterway is not fishable or swimmable. The only positive result of a waterway being deemed “impaired”, is that it becomes eligible for grant funds to help clean it up and it’s further contamination must be limited.

IDEM’s proposed new list, due in April, boasts a huge reduction in impaired waters throughout the state.

I’m sure that IDEM hoped we’d all be very impressed. Luckily for us, Save the Dunes spends their very limited resources digging through the morass of paperwork that IDEM posts on their website and attending public hearings to investigate the real impacts on our environment from IDEM’s activity.

Although the list makes it appear that our rivers and streams are suddenly much cleaner than two years ago, it turns out that the reason many waterways, including the florescent green Grand Calumet, are no longer listed as impaired, is because IDEM decided to change its method of measuring contaminants, which allows them to “de-list” waterways because they do not have new data to determine whether or not they are impaired.

At the public hearing, Save the Dunes discovered that another reason for “de-listing” many of the waterways was IDEM’s new decision to presume that fish contaminated with high levels of mercury do not swim. That is, only the very spot from which a contaminated fish was removed from the river will be considered impaired. This new method allowed IDEM to “de-list” large sections of rivers and streams. And, they proudly reported, a lot of energy was spent at IDEM convincing EPA to allow them to use these new systems since it rejects the common sense logic used by the Health Department.

Even though we are supposed to rely on the list to know where it is safe to fish, swim and recreate without being exposed to mercury, lead, cyanide and other toxins, IDEM wants to issue a list that pretends contaminated water is safe.

Attending the public hearing was both surreal and infuriating. In response to many questions at their public hearing, IDEM expressed ignorance about the misleading nature of the proposed list; weren’t sure if they did or did not change their own water quality standards in 2005; didn’t know if they were yet collecting data using the new methods; and didn’t know when, or if, they would be setting limits on further contamination into waterways that were listed as impaired.

And now it looks like IDEM is just a headhunting service for big industry.

Recently, yet another IDEM water quality person announced that he was leaving to take a higher paying job at NiSource after working at IDEM for less than one year. How can this be acceptable?

How can IDEM protect our environment when their staff can just go directly into the employ of industries that they were regulating yesterday?

If, on the other hand, the public is not supposed to rely on IDEM to protect the environment, then they need to disband and quit pretending to do so.

IDEM representative, Jody Arthur, did encourage the public to contact her with comments on the proposed list before January 31, 2008. She can be reached at (800) 451-6027 or via email at jarthur@idem.IN.gov

 Comments can also be submitted to IDEM on their website:

http://www.in.gov/idem

 I, for one, am not willing to let IDEM off the hook.

 

Posted 1/31/2008