Government is about promises. It’s a social contract that allows the public sphere to provide public safety, a functioning infrastructure and public education. It is also the duty of this state government to ensure that individuals and corporations are held to similar clean air and water standards.

That is why it is so disconcerting to read the Indianapolis Star’s recent story regarding the Indianapolis International Airport’s (IIA) policy of periodically dumping de-icing chemicals into local streams and waterways under an Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) permit.

This is not an everyday occurrence at the airport, as the IIA appears to have the appropriate chemical runoff protocols and infrastructure in place to keep dangerous chemicals out of our waterways. However, over the course of the winter, liquid runoff containing de-icing chemicals are stored in large underground basins at the IIA. In the spring, those basins are tested. If the chemical levels in the basins are too high, they are siphoned into the sewer system to be treated at local wastewater treatment plants. But if the chemical levels are below levels established in the IDEM permit, the airport is allowed to release the chemical runoff into local streams and waterways.

This is unacceptable and raises the issue of how dumping de-icing chemicals could be a permitted practice. Along with the complaints of pungent odors and the disconcerting milky coloring of the water in Seerley Creek and Mars Ditch, the chemicals being released into these waterways have long-lasting effects on the fish and wildlife in the region and can be dangerous to humans as well.

The only form of recourse and enforcement that can be taken in this situation is in the hands of IDEM, as only they have the ability to review and enforce the permits issued by the department. What does this say about the efficacy of the state agency on the forefront of preventing environmental degradation? To me, it says that they are not keeping their promise.

Practices like the ones utilized at the airport in Marion County are not isolated incidents. In fact, Indiana is ranked number one in the nation for toxic releases into waterways, totaling 17 million pounds of toxic emissions into streams, rivers and the Great Lakes in 2012.

These facts demonstrate one thing: the state of Indiana must take meaningful action regarding water quality standards to ensure a more sustainable future.

While the governor’s administration may believe the EPA’s new rules clarifying and strengthening the federal Clean Water Act go too far, this incident at the IIA is an indication that the state’s rules and procedures to protect water quality may be too lax.

As policymakers, we must consider the needs on not only this generation, but those to come. If Indiana wants to achieve the quality of life that ensures the health and safety of future generations, then the state must demonstrate a genuine commitment to environmental excellence as one of its core values. Allowing unsafe and potentially toxic substances into our precious waterways has no place in that commitment.

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