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Canaries in the Coal Mine

By Jim Sack

Fort Wayne Reader

2015-10-17


Governor Mike Pence enumerates the accomplishments of his administration in campaign emails as reasons to re-elect him. Let’s look at what he and the rest of our state’s leaders leave out.

As for jobs, our unemployment rate has improved, but ditto that in about every other state in the country. At least we haven’t fallen behind. We rank 18th, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

We rank 16th in population, 39th in life expectancy.

The Census Bureau shows our median household income ranks around 35th, much less than mediocre.

A research organization, CRN, ranks us 25th in quality of living, the very definition of mediocre.

But, take cheer — CRN notes the overall cost of living here is the fourth lowest in the country! Property taxes are fifth lowest in the country, sales tax is 10th lowest, income tax is 11th lowest, and environment regulation is THE lowest.

Researchers rank our workforce as the 38th best educated in the country, or the 13 least educated, half empty-half full. Our application of technology and innovation, they add, ranks 25th, again mediocre. Entrepreneurial activity is ranked at 39th.

Our percentage of workers with college degrees is the 8th lowest, just ahead of Alabama. Certainly, we have great universities, but something happens upon graduation.

Our overall economy ranks 30th to 34th in the US, depending on the source. Again, we are heavily dependent upon the auto industry for jobs.

The Gallup Poll reports we ranked the 40th happiest state in the country, up two points from 2012. Suicide in Indiana, however, is above the national average.

According to the CDC we are the 7th most obese state in the country.

Statemaster, another research organization, ranks Indiana the 21st best state in which to live, the highest ranking among research results we could find, but their criteria gives points for the number of WalMart stores per population where we rank 11th, and White Castle’s per population where we are number 3 of the 11 states lucky enough to have that purveyor of nutrition! Perhaps obesity also wins points on their scale.
Remember that number one ranking in the laxity of environmental regulation, or, in environmental protection?

We do punch above our weight in terms of filth belched into the sky, number eighth among 50.

Indiana is the number one polluter of waterways in the entire country, according to www.wateronline.com. Conversely, congratulations to Fort Wayne for making significant strides in reducing the crap we put in the rivers.

Fort Wayne’s problem, however, is Ozone where the American Cancer Society gives us a “D” ranking. Ozone is linked to cancer.

Here’s a factoid: we have the 12th highest number of superfund clean up sites in the country — 30. But Bloomington sports three of the top 20 most polluted places in the USA. Number seven and 13 are two landfills outside the town, while a nearby quarry ranks as the ninth most polluted place on the EPA list. Each is saturated with PCBs.

The Ohio River is the most polluted waterway in the country. Years ago the Harvester Ditch on the Fort Wayne’s east side was a slimy, cancerous, pungent cesspool. City stats as of September showed high levels of E-Coli at a range of testing sites. And, investigation of Indianapolis’s White River compared it to a used toilet.

Air? The American Lung Association has given Indiana a D rating for the quality of the air we breathe. Most rated counties in Indiana get a D or an F. Happily Allen County achieves a D.

Governor Pence is fighting stricter EPA emission standards. In fact, he is trying to paint watchdogs as the bad guys, which makes you wonder who he is defending…

The United Health Foundation reports only nine states have worse overall health than we Hoosiers. They cite air pollution as one of our biggest problems. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality puts us at the 13th lowest.

We have the sixth highest incidence nationally of lower respiratory disease. Airborne particles and ground level ozone can trigger respiratory problems, especially for people with asthma.

We rank ninth worst for cancer deaths.

We are 11th worst in deaths from stroke, another disease exacerbated by air pollution.
Even pre-term births are associated with the air we breathe.

Pollutants cause a thinning of the protective ozone layer contributing to skin cancers.
Chemicals we release into the air cause nerve damage.
Indiana has the third highest use of coal used for heating in the country, behind Texas and neighboring Illinois. There is no such thing as clean coal. Power plants spew particulates down wind.

A whopping 84% of our “clean” electricity is generated by dirty coal. Only Kentucky and West Virginia use higher percentages of coal in their energy mix.

We rank 29th in the amount of energy produced from non-carbon resources. Air pollution damages trees, crops, other plants, lakes, and other animals. Air pollution damages buildings, monuments, and statues.

Remember the canary in the coal mine? That is us. Indiana produces the fifth greatest amount of carbon dioxide in the country. Tons and tons and tons are spewed into the air everyday. You breathe it. Miners would carry caged canaries into the mines to show when levels of CO2 would become lethal. The canaries were more vulnerable and would die before levels would kill humans. Welcome to Indiana, the canary in America’s coal mine.

The polluters Governor Pence protects are killing Hoosiers prematurely, certainly something to consider when the governor tries to scare you with higher energy prices. Perhaps if he wanted to impress us with his achievements he would point to increased life expectancy, a rising quality of living, and a better educated population.

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