Tribe tracks pollution
DULUTH, Minn. -- The Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa has tracked air cleanliness for more than four years and is hoping to gain some control over polluters within 50 miles of the reservation.
The tribe could hear within weeks whether the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has granted its application for treatment as an affected state under the federal Tribal Authority Rule. If the tribe is granted affected state status, its concerns would carry the same weight with regulators as those raised by the state.
Fond du Lac would become the first of 35 Midwest tribes to receive the recognition. Only a handful of the 576 U.S. tribes have it.
"It's a big step for Fond du Lac Reservation, and it's a big step in Indian country," Ferdinand Martineau, the band's resource management director, told the Duluth News-Tribune. "
Environmental concerns and the availability of federal matching grants prompted the tribe to begin its air quality program in spring 1999. It is working to obtain grants to continue the program, and is considering how to use the information it has gathered to protect air quality.
"We were the first tribal air program in Region 5," said Fond du Lac environmental program manager Chris Berini, referring to the EPA's six-state Midwest region.
The program's three employees monitor levels of several pollutants, Berini said.
"We started out fairly small, monitoring for acid rain deposition and mercury," she said. "The program has grown to include nitrogen oxides, particulate matter and ozone. It's a pretty big program for a small reservation."
Reservation officials haven't decided exactly how they'll use all the data they're collecting. They have several options, Berini said.
"One is to set our own air quality standards. We could focus on a couple parameters or we could cover everything. We're trying to figure out which would offer the best protection for the reservation," he said.
Another possibility is cracking down on backyard burning and other small, but significant, air pollution sources.
"On the local level, some of the bigger problems with air quality are things that individuals do at their homes," Martineau said. "If we had the ability to do enforcement, we could stop some of the pollution that happens from burn barrels, burning garbage piles, burning treated lumber."
Burning household garbage produces dioxin, a byproduct of burning plastics or items containing chlorine, such as some bleached papers. .
Environmental officials believe burning household trash might be one of the largest sources of dioxin emissions in the Lake Superior region.