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Number of New HIV Cases in Scott County Plateaus

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Scott County, Indiana, has seen a surge in positive HIV cases in recent months, but data from the Indiana State Department of Health is showing the number of positive cases may be reaching a plateau. WFHB News correspondent Jordan Guskey looked in to what the numbers mean and what could explain the magnitude of the outbreak for today’s WFHB Community report.

Cast of Characters: Leslie Rowland

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Rowland holding her niece.
Photo courtesy of Leslie Rowland.

This is the story of Leslie Rowland, a local woman who lived with Lyme disease for 16 years before she was diagnosed, on another installment of WFHB’s Cast of Characters series with reporter Amanda Marino.

The Ins and Outs of Money – Dial This Extension for Money Smarts

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Along with every other Indiana county, we have a Purdue University Extension that offers free resources to the community. Among those resources, says Emily Roth, are information and education related to managing your money better.

Decades-Old Document Lists Bloomington Properties Suspected of PCB Contamination

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For decades, a group of chemical compounds called PCBs have caused massive problems in Bloomington. Although there has been relatively little public discussion about the contaminants in the past decade, a citizen group called Healthy Monroe County has recently reignited the issue. That has caused some in the community to call for more information about the current status of PCB contamination in the city. WFHB contributor Emily Beck brings us this report.

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Following requests from the public, several weeks ago the Bloomington Utilities Department released a list of properties in the city that may be contaminated with PCBs. The list includes residences that may have received polluted sludge given away as fertilizer decades ago by the Winston-Thomas Waste Water Treatment Plant.

PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, are a synthetic chemical harmful to humans. The Westinghouse Electric Company opened a Bloomington plant in 1957 and used PCBs as insulating fluid in capacitors and transformers. The chemical was banned in the United States in 1979, but not before spreading across Bloomington and the world.

Recently, controversy has surrounded the city’s list of properties. Members of the citizen group Healthy Monroe County, headed by John Smith, have been vying for government documents concerning PCBs. One of those documents is this list.

“As far as I know, people could be living in houses without knowing they’re contaminated,” Smith said. “There was one Herald-Times article published some time ago that addressed this list. It had a phone number to (Utilities Department Deputy Director) John Langley and said anyone that thinks they may have been contaminated on their property can give them a call and see if their address is listed. But one news article is really lacking for such a concern. I think the list should really be published.”

That Herald Times article was published in 2008, and gave an overview of the results from testing. The city provided Smith with a copy of the residence list several weeks ago. Smith has since provided a copy to WFHB.

The utilities department was hesitant about releasing the list, according to Langley. Langley has worked for the city for decades and he tested some properties for PCBs back in 1989 and 1990.  He says the list isn’t conclusive and it may not be completely accurate. The origins of the list go back to the mid-1970s, when city officials first realized PCB-contaminated sludge had been distributed to residents. At that time, Langley says the city decided to hold a press conference.

“And they said if you bring us a sample, we’ll test it,” Langley said. “The process was not controlled from a scientific standpoint whatsoever. So you could bring it in in a coffee can or a paper bag or whatever you wanted to. They sampled it and reported it later on a spreadsheet.”

Questions of accuracy

The list includes 126 properties throughout the city, lots of them in residential neighborhoods. But Langley says simply because a property is on the list, that doesn’t necessarily mean there is — or ever was — PCB contamination there.

Langley says most of the potentially contaminated sites have never been tested, often because the city couldn’t get permission to enter the property. He gives lots of reasons for that. Maybe an incomplete address was on file, or the original property owner moved and didn’t give a forwarding address, or the property owner was dead or unknown.

According to a testing report, “Although CBU has files on about 126 properties alleged to have received sludge, some of the files are very incomplete and not enough information exists to even contact the property owner.”

The utilities department began what is called a Uniform Testing Program in 1989. That included sending letters to 102 of the owners whose properties were on the list. They couldn’t get contact information for all 126.

72 out of the 102 letters were received. The rest were returned unopened, according to Langley. Just more than half of the property owners on this list were ever successfully contacted about the alleged contamination of their land.

The letters contained a questionnaire asking how much sludge property owners used on their yards. It also asked them to give the city permission to test their soil for the chemical, according to Langley.

39 property owners said no to testing. The letter made it clear that the results would be public record. Owners may have feared repercussions, including reduced property values or liability issues — and the city was concerned too.

“So it became obvious to us rather early, that information as to whether or not you’ve got PCBs, you can be on this list and we’ve got no proof of anything,” Langley said. “So do we really want to make public a list of maybe maybe nots? And if we do that, do we damage people who are either trying to sell real estate or buy real estate?”

In total, 29 of the 126 sites were tested for PCBs. The city tested 26 as part of the Uniform Testing Program. John Langley tested two before the program began, and one property owner opted to have tests done independently.

In most cases, the tests didn’t find PCB levels that government officials considered dangerous.

At seven of the sites, no PCBs were detected. According to that Herald Times article, “…four sites had detectable concentrations between .1 and 1 parts per million; twelve sites ranged from 1.0-3.7 ppm and three sites ranged between 3.7 and 22 ppm.”

If PCB levels were above 10 parts per million, which is a level determined by an EPA policy, a second test was done.

“The preponderance of the data said, “less than a part per million,” Langley said. “Great news.”

More contaminated sites possible

But the majority of the residences on the list — 97 total — went untested. Their levels can’t be known for certain.

Other sites could exist as well.

Some citizens took old capacitors home to harvest for their valuable parts. Local attorney Mick Harrison, who has been working on the PCB issue for decades, says that could have caused even more contamination.

“There were several of what we call salvage sites where folks had taken some of the PCB capacitors and transformers off the dump sites,” Harrison said. “They actually transported this material to their homes and salvaged the copper and aluminum for resale in their backyards, dumping the PCBs in the process. We now have a number of properties contaminated that way that are not being cleaned up.”

Despite concerns from some Bloomington residents, Langley says city officials have reservations about how this list of 126 properties is used.  He says the data on file could have come from a bad sample. Homeowners who had nothing to do with the sludge, but who own property on this list, could be damaged.

Smith and members of Healthy Monroe County, however, want property owners to know if PCBs are present in their soil — that way they can deal with contaminated land and avoid becoming sick from exposure.

In a recent interview with WFHB, Harrison asked the city to consider entering a mediation process with residents affected by contamination.

“I would encourage listeners to contact their elected officials locally and see if the city would accept our, at the moment, informal invitation…to sit down with us in a formal mediation…and to talk through the problem and to see if we can come up with a path forward that we can all agree on,” he said.

So far the city has not made any public statements in response to the request of a mediation process. Langley said citizens concerned about the possibility of PCBs on their property should contact the city utilities department for testing.

 

Editor’s Note: For some of the reasons explained in this article, WFHB has chosen not to publish the list of potentially-contaminated properties online at this time. Copies are available from the City of Bloomington. WFHB will continue researching the status of PCBs in Bloomington in the coming months. 

No Official Public Comment As DNR Considered Plan For State Forests

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The Indiana Department of Natural Resources has just published a five-year plan for how it will manage state forest land. The document is coming under fire from some Indiana residents, who say they weren’t even consulted as the DNR was making its plans. News Director Joe Crawford brings that story for today’s WFHB community report.

Scott County Enforcing Paraphernalia Laws in Spite of HIV Outbreak

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Police in Scott County say they will continue enforcing drug paraphernalia laws, despite concerns from public health officials trying to stem the HIV outbreak there.

The HIV outbreak in southeastern Indiana continues to grow. So far there have been 143 new cases discovered as part of the outbreak. State health officials joined local authorities in Scott County this morning to discuss the situation. The outbreak has been linked to the use of intravenous drugs and Governor Mike Pence has suspended state law to allow for a needle exchange program there. But some say local police aren’t responding well to the legalization of drug paraphernalia. WFHB News Director Joe Crawford has that story for today’s WFHB community report.

Bloomington Mayoral Candidates Interviewed by WFHB

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Starting tomorrow evening at 6 p.m., Interchange host Doug Storm will host a series of forums on WFHB with candidates running for Bloomington City Council. Last month Storm interviewed the four candidates for mayor of Bloomington, John Hamilton, Darryl Neher, John Linnemeier and John Turnbull.

Ins and Outs of Money – Patch Those Holes—In Your Pants & Your Budget

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Clothing—it’s a necessary expense, and it can be a big one. Jeanne Leimkuhler, co-founder of Discardia, reminds us that repairing and re-purposing our clothes saves money, encourages creativity, and promotes environmental sustainability.

Daily Local News – March 24, 2015

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A new report out of Ball State University finds that bills aimed at curbing meth use might be more expensive for Indiana in the long run; The opinions of local residents seem to reflect the views of their representative in the state senate;The First Lady of Indiana, Karen Pence, has awarded a grant of between $500 and $1,000 to The Community Kitchen of Monroe County through her Charitable Foundation; The Monroe County government has taken issue with a resident who was illegally renting out her property for weddings.

FEATURE
Today, Dan Coats, senior Senator from Indiana, announced that he will not be running for re-election next year. According to Brian Howey of Howey Politics Indiana, he has maintained that position as the congressional GOP as a whole has moved to the right. Correspondent David Murphy spoke to Mister Howey today about Coats’ politics and the implications of his decision not to run again for the Democrats and Republicans who will seek to take this key seat. Following Senator Coats announcement, several Indiana politicians from both major parties released statements on Coats legacy.

INS AND OUTS OF MONEY
Clothing—it’s a necessary expense, and it can be a big one. Jeanne Leimkuhler, co-founder of Discardia, reminds us that repairing and re-purposing our clothes saves money, encourages creativity, and promotes environmental sustainability.

CREDITS
Anchors: Chris Martin, Casey Kuhn
Today’s headlines were written by David Murphy, Carmen Gozalo and Sophia Saliby
Along with Alycin Bektesh for CATSweek, a partnership with Community Access Television Services.
Our feature was produced by David Murphy.
The Ins and Outs of Money is produced by Ryan Stacy and edited by Dan Withered, in partnership with the Monroe County Public Library and The United Way of Monroe County.
Our engineer is Harrison Wagner
Our theme music is provided by the Impossible Shapes.
Managing Producer is Alycin Bektesh
Executive Producer is Joe Crawford

Indiana House of Representatives Approves Religious Freedom Restoration Act

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Shortly before we went to air today, the Indiana House of Representatives approved a bill that could protect businesses that discriminate against LGBT residents. The bill is known as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. It would prohibit governments from “substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion.” Some proponents of the bill have said they hope it will protect businesses, churches or individuals that choose not to serve LGBT residents.

The bill has been widely seen as a response to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Indiana. Just before the bill passed, News Director Joe Crawford spoke with one of the leaders of the movement to oppose the measure. We bring you that interview for today’s WFHB community report.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 63 to 31. It has already passed the Senate and Governor Mike Pence has expressed support for the legislation.

Freedom Indiana delivered thousands of letters opposing Senate Bill 101 just hours before the House of Representatives voted to pass the bill. Photo courtesy of Freedom Indiana.

Members of Freedom Indiana delivered thousands of letters opposing Senate Bill 101 just hours before the House of Representatives voted to pass the bill. Photo courtesy of Freedom Indiana.

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