Apparently it's OK to breathe again in Northwest Indiana. But don't make a habit of it.
According to Indiana Department of Environmental Management Commissioner Thomas Easterly, "The risk of living in Northwest Indiana is no higher than living in any other (similar) area in the U.S."
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it is a step up from breathing air that might best be described as "chunky style" and "barely viscous." Qualifying the endorsement with "no worse than other similar areas" still leaves plenty of room for improvement.
The commissioner's comments were based on a recent IDEM report on air toxics in northern Lake and Porter counties. It said, based on the last reports done in 2005, while still far from perfect, things used to be a lot worse. That's the kind of helpful information we need from our environmental agencies.
The report analyzed the cancer risks from air toxins to a person breathing the same air every day for 70 years. Obviously this person needs to get out more, but the good news is the study found the cancer risk from emissions from permitted facilities is less than it was in 2005.
Before you cheer too hard, and maybe bring on a coughing fit, the report also said the lifetime cancer risk from vehicle emissions is higher.
"Roadway risk drops off very, very quickly once you get away from the roadway," Jeff Stoakes, senior environmental manager in the IDEM air quality office in Northwest Indiana, wheezed.
The solution to this seems to be: Don't stand in the middle of the road and breathe.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new regulations are expected to lower the on-road mobile emissions for those who, for whatever reason, must do their breathing in the middle of the road. The other way to lower emissions is carpooling and mass transit.
Most people would rather jump into the lions' pit dressed in a raw liver body suit than use mass transit. Most congressmen would almost rather get real jobs than approve funding to make mass transit a feasible option anywhere. Instead, they keep their jobs and give transit just enough money to slowly strangle it.
But I don't mean for this to be a negative column. We need to celebrate the fact the air is slightly less lethal than it used to be. We can now take a deep breath on alternate Thursdays, but not all at once.
And, if you know someone who is breathing the same air every day for 70 years, for heavens sake take them someplace for a change of air, like the dunes. Let them stand in the water and take a whiff of lake air while an oil slick slowly covers their bodies.
Don't worry. That oil slick is probably better than expected, too.