'On the Trail: Autism and the Environment'
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.
In reality, this introduction to a new Bloomington Alternative feature called "On the Trail" was written after-the-fact, as I've been on this path the past few weeks now. My last two pieces, for example, included first-person accounts of my recent forays in health-care and environmental reporting. And that's mostly what I will be doing here in the near future -- writing more about the journey than the destination.
This new focus reflects a shift in my priorities. Changes are at hand here that demand expanded horizons and time commitments. So what writing time I will have for the Alternative in the near future, anyway, will be used to share the experiences I have researching and writing stories for other publications. There aren't enough hours in the day.
My last two columns and this one, for example, chronicle the sources and information I have found researching a 2,000-word story for a national political newsletter on the role industrial pollution may play in the development of autism.
In many ways, the journalistic journey I am taking into the world of autism reminds me of a mushroom experience I had deep in the Martin County woods in the late 1980s.
As some tree-hugger friends and I led a Washington Times columnist through a valley en route to a particularly egregious U.S. Forest Service clearcut, I noticed what, to someone who had never found a morel before, a specimen that seemed like a giant. Once I discovered the first one, they suddenly appeared everywhere, and I left the woods with a couple dozen in my backpack.
So it has been with autism. Since I started paying attention a month ago, I've realized it is everywhere.
Considering the Roman philosopher Cicero’s contention that a man never really puts his mind to a subject until he writes on it, I haven’t really thought much about health care since the Clinton years.
From 1992 to 1996, I wrote about it at The Herald-Times, capping my career there with a 13-part series in 1996 called Healthcare at the Crossroads, which explored the “driving forces behind health-care reforms” in Bloomington and the nation.
Until lately, about the only thought I’ve given the subject, aside from its role in society and politics, is when I enter the amount my health insurance company deducts each month into my checkbook. I’ve gone years between doctor visits and have not submitted a claim in the eight years I've been buying my own insurance.
Well, a never-ending yen for new professional challenges, combined with an up-close-and-personal encounter with mortality (nothing serious, just expensive), have convinced me it’s time to revisit the subject of health care.