EDITORIAL: Academics tackling environmental challenge

2011-05-15T00:00:00Z EDITORIAL: Academics tackling environmental challenge nwitimes.com
May 15, 2011 12:00 am

At the intersection of the need for additional energy and the need to protect the environment -- and thus health -- lies a challenge: How can both needs be met at the same time?

That question is at the crux of many projects, but the stakes were extremely high with BP's $3.8 billion expansion of the Whiting Refinery.

On the one hand were the Illinois politicians complaining about the plant expansion's potential effect on pollutants being released into Lake Michigan. How ironic, considering three Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago plants dumped into streams 50 times as many solids and almost 60 times as much ammonia a month than would have been allowed under BP's controversial permit.

On the other hand were the energy consumers who want increased access to North American sources of energy from the oil sands of Canada and the people who saw the economic impact of such a major plant expansion.

An independent review commissioned by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels in 2007 backed up the state's contention that pollution increases approved for the Whiting Refinery permit would not harm aquatic life or drinking water.

But another development from that controversy is still bearing fruit. Members of the Purdue University Calumet Water Institute and Argonne National Laboratory have been working together to evaluate new pollution control technologies to see what would work best for the refinery.

On Tuesday, the researchers presented their findings at a community briefing at Purdue Calumet.

Three technologies are effective at reducing mercury and other pollutants, the researchers found in lab tests, and more work is being done to test them on a broader scale.

"Here we have seen industry, universities and the national laboratory come together to find a common solution to a common problem," said George Nnanna, of Purdue Calumet. Nnanna is co-lead scientist on the project.

M. Cristina Negri, of Argonne, also co-lead scientist, said researchers doubted it was possible to meet the standard of reducing particulate mercury and dissolved mercury to 1.3 parts per trillion. "There is no prohibition to achieving that goal," Negri said Tuesday.

"This is not just good for industry; it's good for the community," Nnanna said. "This can serve as a foundation for future studies."

Indeed it should.

Bringing academic research to bear on BP's water pollution challenge is the right approach, as the researchers' update Tuesday showed. The outcome of this project will be good news not just for BP, but also the entire region.

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