The mission of Blackford County Concerned Citizens is to improve the quality of life of Blackford County, Indiana residents by reducing the incidence of diseases, primarily through citizen action to investigate the diseases that are prevalent and by advocating to have these diseases investigated.
Many of you may already know Joanna Bell, but do you know her in this role? Maybe not. So, let’s introduce her to you a bit more so that when you encounter her in the community, you can trust that she is committed to your town. She shines as a bright light in our research project and we are grateful to have her on board.
Joanna was born and raised in Hartford City. She has lived all her life in a home her Dad purchased in 1955 until just recently. Joanna married a local fellow – you may know him as Ben – who is also from Hartford City. All of their four children were raised in the home her Dad bought when she was young. Joanna is Hartford City, through and through! Joanna has worked many jobs in her lifetime, but she has always lived in proximity to the scrapyard. Several family members and neighbors have experienced ALS and cancer, so she was particularly motivated to get involved. As Joanna says, “I kind of have a vested interest in this project!” We are grateful to have her on board.
Joanna has a granddaughter who is just over a year old and she is the light of their lives. Being a grandmother is so new and refreshing and awesome. Joanna and Ben have also started a whole new chapter in their life in their new home. This is one of the most amazing times in their lives together. They are learning new things about themselves despite having been married more than 21 years! It has been a crazy time, but it has also been good and they are looking forward to a bright future together. Joanna’s favorite color is lilac purple and her favorite food is steak and a baked potato. And, last but not least, Joanna is a dog person all the way (sorry cat lovers).
It has been a while since you have heard from us via this newsletter, but lots has been happening despite the pandemic disruptions. Things take time and we are in this for the long haul. We have several things to tell you. First of all, four professors who have been assisting us with the ongoing collaboration published what we have been doing in the peer-reviewed Journal of Applied Social Science. The complete article can be accessed here.
In Fall of 2019, we asked residents to write letters to the Governor and the Commissioner of Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) to use the equipment at their disposal to do further testing of the air around HI&M. A total of 17 letters were sent to Governor Holcomb and Commissioner Pigott. The Commissioner at the Department of Environmental Management, Bruno L. Pigott, responded. The Office of Air Quality monitored the ambient air over a four-month period last summer using two intermittent samplers and a temporary weather station that were installed downwind from the facility (see photos):
Although the equipment was fairly close to the fence, it was a significant distance from the crushing area where the activity takes place which stirs up dust and fumes that are of concern (see map below).
The Office of Air Quality conducted a special monitoring study from May 2020 through August 2020. The IDEM Study identified concentrations of heavy metal pollutants and chromium VI in the air and compared them to benchmark levels for assessing the health risk posed by chemical exposure. The concentration levels did not exceed the 24-hour benchmarks identified in the sources that they used, and concentrations were consistent with other values collected across Indiana in a variety of monitoring programs. Although HI&M is releasing pollutants into the air, they are operating within their legally acceptable limits. The IDEM Report concluded that “the concentrations of the metals collected during the study are very low and do not rise to levels of concern.” The complete IDEM study of HI&M can be found here.
Dr. Sherrie Steiner, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Purdue Fort Wayne, studied the data from the IDEM study and came to some different conclusions. In her view, the way in which IDEM conducted their study does not permit a quality assessment of the possible health risks posed by HI&M business activities because there is insufficient information and data to control for wind direction, humidity and temperature, precipitation, business operations, and peak exposure events. For reasons such as these, she concluded that it was premature for IDEM to conclude from the May-August 2020 Study that there are no public health effects of concern from HI&M’s neighborhood operations. Although none of the samples exceed the benchmark limitations used by IDEM, that does not mean that the activities of HI&M are not negatively impacting public health. Mandated safety thresholds do not guarantee public health. In particulate matter, for example, we already know that there are health impacts below the thresholds that are used. Her complete response to the IDEM Report can be found here.
Hartford Iron and Metal’s lawyer was present for the April 2018 City Council meeting. During that meeting, it was stated that a committee would only be formed if relocation was “off the table.” However, that was not one of the limitations of forming the committee in the March 2018 City Council meeting. When discussing (or lack of discussing) relocation, no real explanation was given. All the information provided by Marc Shere, the attorney for Hartford Iron and Metal, about compliance dealt with storm water runoff.
However, according to IDEM’s report in May 2018, lead was detected “above its groundwater screening level.” IDEM stated that Hartford Iron and Metal needed to provide evidence that the level of lead detected was not due from their “facility’s activities.” Hartford Iron and Metal have yet to provide sufficient evidence showing that they are in compliance when it comes to lead levels in the ground water.
During the March 2018 City Council meeting, Mayor Hodgin was asked if a committee had been formed to discuss the relocation of Hartford Iron and Metal. Mayor Hodgin responded that he had not promised to form any committee, only to look into the possibility of one. Mayor Hodgin then continued with stating that he had information indicating that Hartford Iron and Metal was in compliance with IDEM regulations. Since he believed they were complying, Mayor Hodgin did not feel it necessary to form a committee of any sort at that point.
However, Eric Evans showed a video where Mayor Hodgin made a promise to form a committee, and City Council subsequently voted to form a committee. Then, during the April 2018 City Council meeting, Mr. Evans was told by Marc Shere, the attorney for Hartford Iron and Metal, that a committee would only be formed if talk of relocation was “off the table.” Mayor Hodgin has still yet to fulfill his promise of a committee to the citizens of Hartford City.
One of Dr. Steiner’s students, Luis Nunez, just completed a video about our Spring Earth Day activities. As you may recall, students in Dr. Steiner’s sociology classes, the Sociology Student Association and the Communication’s Honors Society collaborated with Blackford County Concerned Citizens, the Community Harvest Food Bank and the IPFW Food Pantry to give away live vegetables to food insecure residents on Earth Day.
Students volunteered all semester—sterilizing grow beds, shoveling dirt, planting seeds, and tending seedlings– to grow vegetables in the Purdue University Fort Wayne’s greenhouse to give to the community.
Students made buttons, tied gangly plants to stakes, and canvassed neighborhoods to distribute information about the project to the community.
The idea originated with Blackford County Concerned Citizens.
As you know, BCCC and residents have been asking city officials to work with Hartford Iron & Metal (HI&M) to discuss their possible relocation to a nearby industrial site. The steel recycling plant has been contaminating the neighborhood air and water with heavy metals that are known carcinogens. If the discussion to relocate HI&M to the industrial park succeeds, a large brownfield will remain.
This pilot project was initiated to show Hartford City residents the feasibility of above-ground gardening on brownfields.
Dr. Mohammadpour’s students in a Sustainable Construction course designed an imaginary greenhouse suitable to the current lot where Hartford Iron & Metal is operating, and they showed how relocation to the industrial site would be beneficial to business expansion.
On Earth Day, many of the vegetable plants were taken to Hartford City, but we had more than enough and students were eager to share. Students helped distribute the live vegetables to students at semester’s end, and Community Harvest Food Bank was eager to help distribute the rest.
It is through projects like this, that Blackford County Concerned Citizens and the Hoosier Environmental Council are helping reduce the risk of cancer and neurological disease in Blackford County.
This project was sponsored by a START grant from the College of Arts and Sciences and a Purdue Student Service-Learning Grant that provides seed monies for research, development, and community-building projects in which faculty and students work directly with community members, civic leaders, and regional institutions to accelerate Fort Wayne’s growth and enterprise.
Purdue Fort Wayne Moss Testing Project Underway
Dr. Sherrie Steiner in the Anthropology and Sociology Department and Dr. Jordan Marshall from Biology have begun the research grant to conduct another round of moss testing. If you are interested in volunteering to help water moss stations when our hosts are away, please contact Dr. Steiner at steiners[at]pfw[dot]edu. They are looking to create a list of volunteers who can assist our station hosts. Thank you!
What a fine day we had last Saturday! The IPFW College of Arts and Sciences START program funded a record involvement of IPFW students to grow mini-gardens to give away at our events on Earth Day in Hartford City. Thank you, IPFW! Seven vans of IPFW students associated with Dr. Steiner in Sociology and Dr. LeBlanc in Communications joined us for a full morning of activities. Jabin Burnsworth also brought a carload of AP Science students from Manchester High School. Activities occurred throughout Hartford City.
Downtown Barbecue Compliments of John Oxley
Saturday was the best turn-out of citizens we have had at any event. The hub of activity was downtown at John Oxley’s barbecue. The food was quite an attraction, but Eric Evans, BCCC President, said that he personally talked with people non-stop throughout the event. Students gathered comment cards from residents and gave away mini-gardens to residents. The group made a great impression! Just look at the smiles.
Blackford Junior High School
IPFW students had posters of information about Hartford Iron and Metal at the Junior High School. They gave away mini-gardens to visitors, answered questions, and talked about future plans for additional moss testing. Dr. Frank from Hoosier Environmental Council talked with residents about the public health implications of heavy metal exposure. We are grateful to Blackford Junior High School for opening their doors and providing a place for students to present their posters. Thanks as well to Katie at Common Grounds for providing coffee and snacks.
City-Wide Trash Pick Up
IPFW students joined Hartford City residents in picking up trash to clean up city streets after this long dreary winter. There were almost as many student volunteers as there were volunteers from Hartford City! Everyone worked up an appetite for the lunch provided by John Oxley.
Library Mini-Garden Giveaway
The library was celebrating its expansion. Unfortunately, the wind came up and made the area quite chilly. Students stayed and gave away mini-gardens, but everyone was happy to get downtown to join others at John’s to warm-up and eat.
Preparing Trees for Planting
Jabin Burnworth’s students from Manchester High School prepared trees for planting in recognition of Earth Day. They took the tree bundle to the park, separated trees, and bagged them to be given away at various locations for planting.Thank you, Jabin!
Mini-Garden Giveaway in Fort Wayne!
When we collaborated with IPFW to grow mini-gardens in the IPFW greenhouse, we also collaborated with organizations in Fort Wayne. This week, more than 100 mini-gardens were given to students and food insecure residents in Fort Wayne. Faculty translated plant care instructions into Spanish, Burmese, Arabic, French and Japanese.
Community Harvest was delighted to receive the mini-gardens. This project built a lot of good will between students, the university, residents of Fort Wayne, and Blackford County Concerned Citizens.
Purdue Fort Wayne Funds Moss Testing!
Dr. Sherrie Steiner in the Anthropology and Sociology Department and Dr. Jordan Marshall from Biology applied for a research grant to conduct another round of moss testing. If you live near Hartford Iron and Metal and are interested in hosting a moss station on your property, please contact Dr. Steiner at steiners[at]pfw[dot]edu. They are looking to identify nine locations by the end of June. Thank you!
Blackford County Concerned Citizens is giving away free growing vegetables and distributing information about relocating Hartford Iron and Metal. Dr. Indra Frank will be present to answer any questions about health risks associated with pollution. IPFW students will be presenting information about air and groundwater conditions.
Hooray for Mayor Hodgin! Hooray for City Council Members!
In a packed City Hall on Saturday morning, students from Dr. Sherrie Steiner’s class at IPFW and BCCC board members presented information and evidence from their nearly 3 year-long search and investigation about the high incidence of cancer and neurological disease in Blackford County.
In addition to the concerned residents, students from Taylor University, Manchester University, and North Manchester High School were in attendance.
The presentation focused on the air surrounding and the groundwater underneath Hartford Iron & Metal (HI&M). The presentation urged the government to support relocating HI&M to another location such as the Industrial Park. IPFW students presented drawings showing the possible business benefits to HI&M associated with relocation. The students also created posters explaining evidence of fugitive dust contamination.
Evidence presented showed contamination of the groundwater with heavy metals such as chromium, cadmium, nickel, lead, and arsenic, and that the flow of the groundwater was in the direction of city wells. Evidence from recent testing also showed air around the site was contaminated with similar heavy metals, suggesting that the only solution to protect the health of citizens is relocation.
Comments from citizens expressing their concerns about the situation were read to the attentive Mayor and City Council Members for a half an hour. More than fifty comment cards had been submitted related to what it has been like living near Hartford Iron and Metal, concerns over groundwater contamination and explaining why they want HI&M to relocate.
Upon hearing the presentation and asking several good questions, the Mayor and Council suggested the Mayor appoint a group to further study relocation of the local business. Mayor Hodgin boldly suggested that he would personally ask a representative from Hartford Iron and Metal to participate in the group. “That’s my job,” Hodgin said to the audience!
In closing, BCCC President, Eric Evans, encouraged all to focus on the solution to this community issue with cooperation as their guiding thought.
Please continue paying attention to this important issue. Thank you for your involvement!
If you have any questions, feel free to contact us at 765-730-4168 or email us at blackfordcoconcernedcitizens[at]gmail[dot]com.