'Indiana Environment Revisited'
The trail had me looking back this past week to some lengthy conversations I had in the summer of 1999 with Lynton K. “Keith” Caldwell, one of the world’s great environmental thinkers.
The catalyst for this directional about-face was Ball State University’s “Hoosier Poll 2008” that found a majority of Indiana citizens said they would pay more taxes to protect the environment. That reminded me of the column I wrote in the long-defunct Bloomington Independent that caught Keith’s attention back in '99.
In the piece, I argued that corruption was the reason Indiana politicians defied the latest polls of the time that showed a majority of Americans, including Hoosiers, recognized the multiple environmental crises humankind faces and wanted their leaders to act.
A much-needed recovery period from knee surgery, coupled with the holiday season, left little time for working anywhere but on the computer these past two weeks. No interviews, few e-mails, mostly surfing government Web pages. And the effort produced an alarming deja vu.
While researching a story for NUVO readers in Indianapolis on the connection between autism and toxic chemicals, I returned to territory familiar from my stint as an environmental writer at the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) from 1996-2000. I spent hours analyzing Indiana's Toxic Release Inventory (TRI), a gauge for how polluted Indiana or any other state is.
This Community-Right-to-Know tool is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) database through which polluters quantify their annual releases of "nearly" 650 chemicals into the nation's air, water and land, according to the TRI Program Fact Sheet.
Editor's Note: The following policy statement on concentrated animal feeding operations in Indiana was prepared and signed by a group of concerned citizens and organizations.
We support policies and practices that hold industrial-scale livestock operations accountable for off-site impacts to air, land and water and protecting the health and safety of workers, neighbors and consumers.
After touring two “recycleries” and interviewing at least a dozen public and private officials with responsibility for recycling in Monroe County, the best answer I can give those who asked is:
“Your glass bottles probably are being recycled. But you have to take the word of a $4.5-billion Florida-based waste-hauling corporation on it, an industrial giant that also owns and operates landfills across the country, including one about 50 miles east-northeast of here.
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That's the proportion of recyclables collected in Monroe County that actually get remanufactured into something useful, according to the No. 2 man at the Republic Waste Services recyclery in Indianapolis.
"Ninety-three percent of what comes in this plant is recovered and turned into some product that is recycled," said Assistant General Manager Mike Laverty.
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Of that portion, roughly 20 percent is glass, he said. It's by far the costliest recyclable material to process and has no commercial value, at least not for an operation the size of his.
"It costs me money to ship my glass out," Laverty said. "I don't get paid for glass. It costs me money."
Ask just about any citizen at the Recycling Center how long they have been recycling, why they do it and how they would feel if their recyclables weren’t being recycled, and you get remarkably similar answers.
“As long I’ve lived in Bloomington -- six years,” said Cathleen Paquet, while her friend Elizabeth Gibbs nodded in agreement.
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“I think it’s important for our planet, to prevent massive landfills,” said Dale Hartkemeyer, who recently moved to Bloomington from Michigan.
Steve Volan was the only Monroe County Solid Waste Management District board member to give a straight answer when asked if glass and other materials collected at the Recycling Center and rural drop-off sites are recycled or landfilled.
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Board members Joyce Poling and Mark Kruzan couldn't respond. Poling did not attend the district's Aug. 7 public hearing on the 2009 budget at which the issue was discussed. Kruzan arrived late and left early, before the conversation arose.
Board member Patrick Stoffers said he believes glass is being recycled but couldn't say for sure.
"Do I know?" he said. "I have never gotten in my vehicle and followed a truck to its final destination."
The Farmers Market may be the only place in town on Saturday mornings that is busier than the Recycling Center on South Walnut Street.
But while the environmentally conscious hordes that inundate the center with glass, plastic, cardboard and other materials believe their meticulously sorted household refuse will be remanufactured into new products, there is no guarantee that they will.
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Indeed, those who run the place -- the Monroe County Solid Waste Management District -- can't assure recyclers that their milk jugs, wine bottles or Bloomingfoods deli containers won't be dumped in a landfill. Some citizens who have asked questions worry that is exactly what is happening. And they don't like it.
"If it's being landfilled, then the city should know that and be communicating that to the residents and businesses so that we are not wasting our time separating trash for no reason," one concerned citizen familiar with the situation said in an e-mail to the Alternative.
Identifying the most astonishing figure in a folder full of state government documents on Combined Sewer Overflows (CSOs) in Hartford City is a daunting task.
For example, the East-Central Indiana community of 7,000 has 17 combined-sewage "overflow points" on four small creeks, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). Only Kokomo and Muncie have more, with 30 and 23, respectively.
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But, discharge reports from March 2002 indicate that untreated sewage flowed into Little Lick Creek, Moore Prong, Mud Run and Big Lick Creek on 239 occasions in 2001. The combined durations of these releases equaled 58 days of continuous sewage flow a year, 26.75 hours every week.
Still, city, state and federal officials identified Hartford City's CSO pollution as needing remediation 35 years ago.
Rather than raking through the stacks at IDEM, I'm expanding my CSO or combined sewer overflow education by raking through Alternative editor Steven Higgs' file cabinet. Hopefully, my summarization of an article Steve wrote for IDEM in 2000 about the E. coli riddled Little Lick Creek in Hartford City (our next destination) will better prepare me, and others, for what to expect.
Reading the article, I learned something new right away. Not all strains of E. coli, a bacteria living in the intestines of warm-blooded animals, produce the same results. One of the more threatening strains, O157:H7, causes the bloody diarrhea and abdominal cramps often associated with an E. coli infection. This strain and others are found in Little Lick Creek.
Three variables, according to the article, account for this strain in Little Lick: runoff from nearby agribusinesses, failing septic systems and, not surprisingly, untreated waste from CSOs.