It’s all about measurements. By Julie Peller Ph.D

Our ability to understand the health of our world is based on practical measurements. Often, stories emerge where measurements informing us of the effects of our material-based lifestyles are just not done. I have written and spoken about the weaknesses in water quality monitoring in the state of Indiana and other places. Indiana is divided into nine geographic areas. Each year, one region’s surface water is thoroughly monitored; this is far too infrequent to evaluate the water’s ongoing health, among other shortfalls. A recent analysis of air quality monitoring in the United States shows similar failures associated with lack of measurements or faulty practices. 

In 2019, an oil refinery explosion in Philadelphia released nearly 700,000 pounds of hazardous chemicals, so expansive that a National Weather Service satellite captured images of the blast from space. However, the air quality monitors in the area did not register any air pollution. Upon investigation, the closest air monitor was programmed to operate only one of every six days, and other nearby monitors were upwind or too far from the explosion. In 2018, a blast of over 15,000 barrels of asphalt at an oil refinery in Superior, Wisconsin, created black smoke clouds that covered Superior and neighboring areas. A few months later, a report stated, “Air quality monitoring in Superior neighborhoods that began after a series of fires and explosions in April at the oil refinery in the city has come to an end.”

Many areas near industrial activity are not equipped with air monitors, or the monitors are not strategically placed. An estimated 120 million Americans live in areas where there are no means to measure trim particulates in the air, a significant type of air pollution. These are incredibly inadequate in low-income areas, including Northwest Indiana, and represent an example of environmental injustice. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the number of government monitors across the country has declined by 4% over the past five years due to spending cuts to state and local environmental agencies. What is the message when a wealthy country cuts funding to protect the environment and public health, especially given the increasing scientific proof of the harm from the pollution?

In the state of Indiana, the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC) is leading an effort to increase funding for Indiana’s Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). “Safeguard our state environmental agency’s budget, so that we have enough personnel to protect your health.” (https://www.hecweb.org/bill-watch-2020/) Stay informed about critical environmental and public health measures in your community and let your elected officials know about problems and concerns, beginning at the basic level of necessary resources/funding. One of Pope Francis’s World Day of Peace statements is “our plans and projects should always take into account their effects on the entire human family, and consider their consequences for the present and coming generations.”

Julie Peller Ph.D. is an environmental chemist (Professor of Chemistry at Valparaiso University ) and she leads the Environmental Ministry at Nativity of Our Savior in Portage IN. Julie has been writing a weekly column for church bulletins for the past ~6 years called the Green Junction and is helping to move the call of Laudato Si to action forward. Her Research Interests are in Advanced oxidation for aqueous solutions, water quality analyses, emerging contaminants, air quality analyses, Lake Michigan shoreline challenges (Cladophora, water, and sediment contaminants), student and citizen participation in environmental work

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