Monday, July 15, 2013

Illinois EPA looking to cut back on air monitoring

Facing the prospect of budget cuts, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has drafted plans to reduce the number of air quality sensors throughout the state.

The 2014 Ambient Air Monitoring Plan, drafted in May by the IEPA, recommends that the agency discontinue one sulfur monitoring site, one particulate matter monitor, and three lead monitoring sites.

"The proposed 2014 network plan provides select discontinuations from the plan approved by US EPA and operated in 2013," the plan reads (PDF). "The design of the monitoring network for 2014 has also been based upon the assumption that funding to support the monitoring program is likely to be reduced in fiscal year 2014 and that all efforts would be made to keep as much of the network intact as possible."

The particulate matter monitor is located atop Washington High School in the South Side of Chicago, one of the more polluted parts of the city. It specifically measures the amount of particles under 10 micrometers in diameter, known as PM 10, which can damage lung tissue, cause cancer, and lead to death.

According to the IEPA's 2011 annual air report (2012 and 2013 reports are not available from the website), this was the same monitoring station that observed the highest annual average concentration of airborne cadmium and sulfur in the state for that year.

It also was the site that recorded both the highest 24-hour average and the highest annual average of nitrates in 2011. And out of the five PM 10 monitors in the state, the Washington monitor recorded the second-highest 24-hour sample of particulates.

The lead monitor at the Washington site will be one of the three to be removed. The lead monitor at the Perez Elementary School, which Little Village and Pilsen residents lobbied the state to install after finding unhealthy levels of lead in the ground (covered in my series "Battle in the Barrio"), will remain.

Additionally, the IEPA is considering discontinuing the sulfur dioxide monitor in Decatur. That city is home to a major feed processing plant operated by Archer Daniels Midland that has been the subject of environmental lawsuits.

ADM's 3601 East Division Street complex is designated in the EPA's Toxic Release Inventory as a "High Priority Violator" of the federal Clean Air Act. It's last EPA inspection was 933 days ago, and it's been classified as having "significant non-compliance" issues for at least the past 3 years.

In the latest TRI data for on- and off-site toxic releases, ADM reported releasing more than 180,000 pounds of sulfuric acid on-site. Sulfur dioxide is an intermediary to sulfuric acid, the major component of acid rain.

In 2003, the Justice Department won a lawsuit against ADM in which the company lost an estimated $340 million over CAA violations in 16 states. The EPA reported that ADM would have to reduce its SO2 pollution by 11,000 tons annually. The civil penalty in that case was $4.6 million.

The IEPA's 2014 annual ambient air monitoring plan notes that these changes would not affect federal compliance. IEPA will continue to meet or exceed the required number and variety of air monitors. For example, IEPA operates 30 ozone monitors throughout the state, whereas USEPA requires just 16.

IEPA accepted public comment on their plans until June 28.