Environmental Health in Lake County, Indiana: Looking at Industrial History, Race, and Air and Water Quality

Author: Audrey Payne
Major: Public Health Studies
Approved: Spring 2021
Status: In progress

In 2016, Methodist Hospital in Lake County, Indiana published their Community Health Needs Assessment report. In this report, Methodist relays that 22% of the population in Lake County were exposed to drinking water exceeding a violation limit in the past year. This is an extremely high percentage, especially visible when compared to the Indiana percentage of 4% of the population having been exposed. The Lake County data shows an even bigger problem when compared to the national United States’ 1% of the population having exposure. When looking at air pollution data shared in the report, both Lake County and Indiana have higher particulate matter density than U.S. daily density; Lake County and Indiana having 13.2 and 13.5 micrograms per cubic meter, respectively, and the U.S. density being 11.9 (almost two points lower than the Indiana and Lake County densities).  

The high rates of exposure to contaminated drinking water and particulate matter are also consistent with the high death rate of cancers in Lake County. Here, the death rate is 186.5 (per 100,000), while the Indiana and national rates are comparatively lower: 181.9 and 170.5, respectively. For this project, I plan on investigating the relationship between cancer prevalence in Lake County and air and water pollution as proximal causes of colorectal, breast, prostate, and lung cancers. I will also be investigating how the industrial history of the city of Gary (located in Lake County) has impacted the environmental health of citizens today, and how environmental racism has played a part in the industrial evolution of the city. By combining numerical data and interviews with both residents and experts in Lake County regarding environment and health, I hope to see how air and water quality has affected residents on both community and personal levels.