Budget Cuts May Lead to Reduction in Toxic Air Monitoring in Louisville

Without some additional grant funding, the air toxics monitoring run out of the University of Louisville will have to scale back next year.

Russ Barnett of the Kentucky Institute for the Environment and Sustainable Development has been running the program for more than a decade. He monitors for different toxic chemicals at six sites around Louisville. Five of those sites are in West Louisville—the other one is a control site on Cannons Lane—and his is the only long-term toxics monitoring going on in the city. In the decade he’s been testing, his results have shown definite drops in the amounts of many of the toxic chemicals emitted into the air, and many of those drops are attributed to Louisville’s Strategic Toxic Air Reductions program.  

Barnett says activists and regulators seem to appreciate his monitoring. It provides the proof that regulations are working, and shows what people living near Rubbertown are actually being exposed to. And he says even the industries like having his data.

“I’m the only one who can really document that anything that they do has made any difference,” Barnett said. “There have been some pretty dramatic differences, and almost every time, I can almost pinpoint it to the day they turn on a new piece of equipment or they shut down a line.”

Barnett’s monitoring program was started with a federal grant. Since then, most of his monitoring is funded by the state, with some in-kind contributions from the U of L, like lab space. But as the state has gone through budget cuts, Barnett has watched his program’s funding shrinking. Until 2009, he got $150,000 a year. When that dropped to $122,000, he cut salaries for pharmacology and toxicology support to interpret the health effects of different chemical concentrations. Now, he’s getting $84,000 from the state.

Barnett estimates that he needs $105,000 a year to run a bare bones monitoring program—and that doesn’t take any funding for equipment repairs or replacements into account. He has enough funding to get through 2013, but without extra funding he’ll have to scale his monitoring back next year.

“It’s a problem that’s not unique to this particular project,” he said. “Everyone’s taking budget cuts. We’re all trying to go after a shrinking resource of funding.”

Barnett is applying for grants through the university, and is working on two major proposals. He’s also asking the Air Pollution Control Board to consider giving him some of the money in the district’s Air Quality Trust Fund. There’s $17,000 in that fund right now—earmarked for use conducting and funding air quality research and projects.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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