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November 2004

Indiana University Receives $3.5 Million to Monitor Airborne Pollutants

Chicago, IL— U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Great Lakes National Program Office has awarded $3.5 million over five years to Indiana University in Bloomington and environmental scientists Ronald Hites and Ilora Basu to continue operating the U.S. portion of the Integrated Atmospheric Deposition Network (IADN), a U.S.—Canadian effort to monitor airborne pollutants in the Great Lakes.

The network is made up of 15 air-monitoring stations around the Great Lakes in the U.S. and Canada. Air and precipitation samples are collected and analyzed by the university for pollutants such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and DDT. Recently, the network has included dioxins and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) widely used as flame retardants among the pollutants monitored. The results are used to calculate the amount of these pollutants entering the Great Lakes. Trends can be examined to measure the progress toward reducing pollution.

EPA is particularly concerned about persistent pollutants such as PCBs that stays in the lakes for a long time and build up in fish tissue. When people eat contaminated fish; the pollutants enter their bodies and can be harmful, especially to children and women of childbearing age. These bioaccumulative pollutants are the cause of fish consumption advisories for all of the Great Lakes.

Overall, not only can atmospheric monitoring tell if the air is getting cleaner, it can help improve understanding of how pollutants travel through the atmosphere.

Many of these pollutants can travel long distances in the air and end up far from their original sources. Air, water and precipitation samples are collected at five master sites and 10 satellite sites in the United States and Canada. Some of the sites are located in or near big cities such as Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit and Toronto. Last year a station was added in Cleveland. Other monitoring sites are in very remote areas such as the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Recent results from IADN monitoring have shown an “urban effect” where higher levels of PCBs are found near cities, but PCBs also have been recorded at Eagle Harbor on Lake Superior in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a remote and seemingly pristine area. Even at low levels PCBs can be a significant source of pollution and affect the Great Lakes ecosystem.

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