Health and Wellness

Urban Forest

Trees provide essential ecosystem services related to health and well-being like improved air quality and climate control. But they also provide essential cultural services by contributing to mental, physical, and emotional health and by creating a critical sense of place for the campus and local community.

Little Calumet Trail

Take a short walk to the north side of campus to recharge, exercise and enjoy wildlife along the Little Calumet walking and biking trail. It is part of the Gary Green Link Corridor, a greenway that connects the Grand Calumet River, the Little Calumet River, and the Lake Michigan shoreline. 

Community Garden

The IU Northwest Community Garden collaboratively builds capacity and connections. The Garden is open to all members of the campus and public and is committed to education, health, social and physical wellbeing.

Health and Wellness

The video below was made possible through a grant from the IU Women’s Philanthropy Foundation. The tutorial provides background on the connection of human health to environmental health, threats to public health in northwest Indiana, and environmental justice and public health. It provides tips on how to say healthy and what you can do to help contribute to bettering public health and to create a more resilient region.

Description of the video:

Case Study

  1. Title Slide - Case Study
  2. Lead Crisis in East Chicago, Indiana
    1. How can a city build a public housing facility directly on top of a site where concentrations of lead are so high that the Environmental Protection Agency declares the area a Superfund Site? Well, that is exactly what happened in East Chicago, Indiana.
  3. Environmental Injustice in East Chicago
    1. The US Steel Lead Refinery was one of three different lead manufacturing plants that operated in East Chicago between 1906 and 1985. When they were up and running, these refineries contaminated the surrounding land with lead, but that did not stop later developers from using the land anyway.
    2. During the 1970s, the West Calumet Housing Complex was constructed in East Chicago. The housing complex was built where the Anaconda Lead and International Refining Company once operated, and was across from the U.S. Steel refinery.
    3. Building public housing in areas where industrial activities, like lead smelting, have taken place is an intentional public health injustice! Residents who relied on the services of public housing, most of whom were racial and ethnic minorities, were subjected to the purposeful placement of their homes in contaminated areas. This, as we will discuss further in this video, is an example of environmental racism.
  4.    Lead Contamination
    1. Lead contamination harms everyone, but children are most at risk! Adults who are exposed to high lead levels may experience numerous symptoms, like memory loss and headaches, nausea, fatigue, and even organ damage. These risks are extremely serious; however, children are most at risk because they are still growing and developing. Lead contamination can cause developmental issues like decreased bone and muscle growth, as well as behavioral problems and learning disabilities.
  5. Blood Lead Levels in Indiana 
    1. Between 2005 and 2015, nearly twenty-two percent of children in East Chicago showed elevated levels of lead in their bloodstream when tested. These results were continuous and incredibly concerning, and the health impacts are still felt by residents today.
    2. You may be thinking, “but lead was banned from paint in the 1970s, and from gasoline in the 1990s.” So how did this become such a big problem? Some toxins, like lead, stick around in soil and water long after the source is gone.
  6. Federal Response in East Chicago
    1. In 2009, the EPA designated the US Steel lead site and surrounding residential areas a Superfund Site. Superfund Sites are those that are heavily polluted or contaminated and will require at least several years to clean.
    2. Despite the Superfund designation of the West Calumet Housing complex in 2009, residents were not given an evacuation order until 2016. When the evacuation was announced, eleven-hundred people were only given between sixty and ninety days to leave their homes.
    3. The time constraint made it difficult for residents to find somewhere else to live, many of whom abandoned their belongings in fear of lead contamination. Some residents ended up homeless because of issues with public housing alternatives. The West Calumet Housing complex was demolished in 2018, and the land where it once stood was rezoned and sold by East Chicago later on.
    4. For the government to record such high percentages of children with elevated blood lead levels, and then respond so slowly, was another public health injustice for East Chicago residents.  
  7. Public Health Comes First
    1. The story of the West Calumet Housing Complex and its residents’ struggles with lead contamination is an incredibly unfortunate example of when economic prosperity is valued over public health; however, industry isn’t the only problem. We need to make public health our number one priority in all situations.
  8. Nature & Pollution in Indiana
    1. In Indiana, we have a lot of biodiverse ecosystems, like the Indiana Dunes National Park and other nature preserves like prairies. But on the other side of the coin, our state is littered with industry and agriculture that degrades our natural environment. We can protect our health by understanding what is impacting our environment, how close it is to us, and what we can do to mitigate, avoid, or eliminate the health risks that surround us.  

Section 1: Public Health Threats

  1. Section Slide - Public Health
  2. What do we mean by public health & wellbeing?
    1. Health is determined by our physical and mental wellbeing. Everything around us affects our health, from the air we breathe to the water and food we consume. Because of the uncertainties of climate change, many of the things we need to live will degrade in quality or become scarce, which will threaten public health.
  3. Air Quality in Urban Areas
    1. In urban areas, especially those that are home to industry, there are many different pollutants that pose risks to public health. These pollutants can be anywhere, but are often released into the air through toxic emissions, such as car exhaust or smoke from burning coal.
    2. Air pollution is more severe in urban areas than it is in other places, and this can widely be attributed to increased industrial activity and transportation levels. Fossil fuels are combusted during the many different processes involved in both transportation and industry, which adds to the poor air quality in big cities and urban areas.
    3. Air pollution impacts everyone differently, and can be worse for people with respiratory conditions like asthma; however, it still harms everyone who breathes it in! 
  4. Gary Map
    1. The town of Gary, Indiana is known as part of the crossroads of America. Gary is given this nickname because, as you can see from this map, multiple different highways pass through the town. The heavy transportation activity in Gary greatly contributes to its poor air quality, including its ground ozone levels, which are among the highest in the state.
  5. Air Pollution Health Impacts
    1. Whether short or long term, exposure to air pollution is incredibly harmful to your health. When you breathe in air pollution, it can aggravate asthma and other breathing difficulties, or cause respiratory infections. Young children and vulnerable adults, like the elderly, are most at risk for these complications. Those who are exposed to air pollution constantly, like industrial employees, can develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or lung cancer, among other issues.
  6. Urban Water Quality
    1. In the first image on this slide, you can see a family trying to enjoy the beach along the Lake Michigan shoreline; but having a steel mill looming behind you makes it more difficult to relax. The Cleveland Cliffs steel mill, shown here, sits along the shore of Lake Michigan, which has been known to degrade the water quality with its chemical spills. Cleveland Cliffs is not the only steel mill along the shoreline, however. The second picture shown here is of a chemical spill in Lake Michigan caused by the US Steel Gary Works plant.
    2. Urban water quality is degraded by industrial waste discharge, nonpoint source pollution from roads and agricultural fields, residential and commercial wastewater, and sewage. Water pollution is harmful to anyone who uses the public water supply that is contaminated, such as Northwest Indiana residents who rely on water from Lake Michigan.
  7. Impaired waterways map
    1. According to a 2022 report by the Environmental Integrity Project, Indiana has the most miles of impaired rivers and streams in the United States. As you can see on the map, the number of miles of waterways assessed as impaired for swimming and water contact recreation in Indiana is more than 24,000 miles! The number of impaired rivers and streams we have here in Indiana far surpasses those of our neighboring states.
    2. These water quality issues are especially worrying when you take into consideration how many Hoosiers rely on these different water sources. A quarter of Indiana residents rely on private wells, while seventy-five percent of Hoosiers use public water supplies.
  8. Water Quality in Indiana
    1. According to the Hoosier Environmental Council, in Indiana, one-thousand one-hundred and thirty-six of our waterways are impaired as of 2022. When a waterway is considered impaired, it can pose health risks that make specific uses and activities, like drinking or swimming, unsafe. In this context, impairment means water is unsafe for recreational activities that include bodily contact with the water. 
    2. Another issue that Indiana waterways are afflicted with is algae. Algae blooms occur when algae grows rapidly over the surface of a water source, which often suffocates fish and other organisms.
    3. Sixteen-thousand acres of lakes in Indiana are affected by algae blooms. Some species of algae can be toxic, so whenever you see algae in a waterway, avoid it and do not let people or pets drink from the source.
  9. Water Quality & Public Health
    1. When water sources are contaminated with pollutants, the public can be exposed to chemicals and water-borne diseases that will negatively affect health. Contaminators in the industrial and agricultural sectors can cause toxins and pollutants like arsenic, lead, chromium, sediments, herbicides, and pesticides to appear in local waterways. Human and animal waste that makes its way into local water sources poses the risk of exposure to water borne diseases.
    2. Water pollution is of great concern in Indiana, where waterway impairment is common.
  10. Heat Island Effect 
    1. The heat island effect explains how man-made infrastructure raises surrounding temperatures, particularly in places like large cities. In urban areas with lots of infrastructure, like streets and buildings, temperatures are elevated past the usual levels. Infrastructure absorbs and re-emits heat at higher levels than would be observed in natural or rural areas.
    2. As you can see in the diagram, rural areas and parks experience the lowest temperatures, while suburban areas have more moderate temperatures. The highest temperatures are seen in industrial areas and large cities with much more infrastructure.
    3. Another difference between these areas is the presence of tree canopies. Trees and other vegetation can reduce heat through evapotranspiration. In urban areas, a lack of trees can mean much higher temperatures for residents, which can negatively affect their health.
  11. Chicago Heat Wave
    1. In the Chicago region today, high temperatures are pretty common, especially during the summer season. Would it surprise you to learn that in the 1990s, a heat wave killed hundreds of Chicago residents? At the time, the city of Chicago was not prepared for such an intense heat event.
    2. During a five-day span in July of 1995, Chicago experienced a heat wave with temperatures ranging from ninety-four to one-hundred and six degrees fahrenheit. This heat wave was so brutal and unexpected that it caused over seven-hundred deaths due to heat-related complications. Statistics show that a majority of the victims of this heat wave were residents of minority and impoverished communities.
  12. Climate Change and Urban Heat
    1. As climate change progresses, we will see more extreme heat events like the Chicago heat wave.
    2. Climate change can make temperatures in large urban areas potentially deadly during extreme heat events, which are also more frequent due to climate change. As temperatures rise from climate change, infrastructure in urban heat islands will absorb and re-emit much more heat, raising temperatures to dangerous levels.
    3. As you can see on the map here, there is a large difference in temperature between urban and vegetated areas. The spots where more red is concentrated shows the areas that experience the highest temperatures in the United States. Urbans areas in the Midwest, particularly Northwest Indiana and the Chicago area, experience particularly high temperatures compared to their vegetated rural counterparts.
  13.  Health Impacts of Heat
    1. Heat waves are nothing to dismiss, as they can have severe impacts on health. Extreme heat events are becoming more common due to climate change, which will increase the risk of heat strokes and heat exhaustion, as well as heat-related deaths.
    2. Just like climate change, extreme heat events disproportionately impact certain populations of people. People of color are disproportionately impacted by heat, which can be partly attributed to the heat island effect in urban areas.
    3. Those who work outside are at greater risk because of their exposure to outdoor conditions. Impoverished communities struggle to cope with heat events as well, especially when their homes lack proper cooling units to ensure access to safe, cool environments.
    4. Age and health also impact risk. Older adults, young children, and those in poor health are more at risk for heat-related complications during extreme heat.
  14. Heat Waves map
    1. From this map, you can see that not only are heat waves becoming more frequent around the country, but also that the heat wave season is lasting longer than during the 1900s. As climate change progresses, we will see more frequent extreme heat events, some that may even rival the Chicago heat wave.
  15. Food Deserts
    1. Do you live close to a grocery store? Think about how long it takes you to get to your local grocery store. Is it relatively close to your home, or even right around the corner? Sadly, many people in the U.S. struggle to find places to purchase healthy, affordable food.
    2. Food deserts are areas that have little to no convenient options for nutritious, affordable food. Food deserts are disproportionately found in areas with high poverty, low education levels, high unemployment levels, and smaller populations. Imagine how frustrating it would if your only options were to either eat fast food or travel for over an hour to grocery shop!
  16. Food Deserts & Public Health
    1. Because food deserts lack affordable and healthy food options, many people who reside in food deserts struggle with poor diets. In most cases, fast food is much cheaper than nutritious food, which makes it a popular choice in both impoverished areas and food deserts.
    2. In the United States, one out of every eight people face food scarcity, or the lack of access to sustainable food sources. Food scarcity and food deserts, like other environmental issues, disproportionately impact certain populations.
  17. Food Insecurity map
    1. As you can see through this map, food insecurity is a huge issue in Indiana, but who does it affect the most?
  18. Food Deserts in NWI
    1. In Northwest Indiana, we have an alarming thirty-seven food deserts! The most food deserts are located in Lake County, with twenty-five food deserts. The others are found in LaPorte, Porter, and Jasper counties.
    2. Similarly to climate change and other health impacts in the U.S., food deserts and food insecurity disproportionately impact African American individuals. As you can see in the chart here, twenty-six percent of those living in food deserts are African American, while almost nine percent are white, and almost thirteen percent are hispanic.

Section 2: Environmental Justice & Public Health

  1. Section Slide - Environmental Justice & Public Health
  2. We Deserve to be Healthy
    1. As sustainability activists, we need to fight for and ensure that everyone has access to living necessities that fit their needs. Everyone deserves equitable access to the things we need every day, including clean drinking water and air, safe and affordable housing, affordable transportation, and protection from the inevitable consequences of climate change. 
    2. To secure these necessities, especially those connected to the environment around us like our air and water, we need to strive for the inclusion of environmental justice on the local, state, and federal levels.
  3. EPA definition
    1. The EPA’s definition of environmental justice is: “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income, with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
    2. By applying environmental justice to our decisions and developments, we can ensure that policymakers in our government work for the fair treatment of all people and the resolution of disproportionate environmental burdens. 
  4.  Inequalities & Environmental Justice
    1. So far we have seen multiple examples of environmental injustices, including the construction of public housing on lead-contaminated land and food deserts that lack healthy food choices for communities. Many of the issues we have discussed disproportionately impact certain communities of people.
    2. Communities with lower education and income levels struggle greatly with numerous inequalities; however, communities of color face the harshest inequalities and environmental injustices. For example, race is the number one factor that determines the locations of toxic industrial facilities. Environmental racism describes any environmental acts or policies that disproportionately impact people based on their race or ethnicity.
    3. Inequalities that communities face include disproportionate exposure to health hazards, such as constructing public housing close to steel mills, and lack of access to necessities like clean water and healthy food.
  5. Climate Change & Environmental Justice
    1. Climate change is a global issue that impacts everyone on the planet! But like the environmental risk factors we’ve learned about previously, climate change doesn’t affect everyone equally.
    2. Race is the number one factor that impacts environmental inequalities. Communities of color are placed closest to the very industrial giants that are the main drivers of climate change. If these industrial plants are bad for the environment, imagine the risks they pose to human health.
    3. If we are to combat environmental racism and the numerous risks that communities of color face, we must focus on environmental justice when creating policies or impacting the environment in any way. If it benefits some but harms others, it isn’t even worth considering!
    4. (Next slide) While we need to advocate for policies that have a strong focus on environmental justice, there are also things we can do from home to keep ourselves and our loved ones healthy.

Section 3: Ways To Stay Healthy

  1. Section Slide - Ways to Stay Healthy
  2. 3 maps
    1. It’s important to know what’s around you and how it is impacting your health!
    2. The first map shows that a lot of Indiana’s land is used for agriculture, displayed as green sections on the map. In fact, two-thirds of the land in Indiana has been cultivated for agriculture! Runoff from farm fields can impact the water quality of surrounding areas.
    3. The second map shows industrial parks, represented by red boxes. The colored dots show where petroleum wells are located. The many interstate highways that intersect Indiana are also shown. Industry and transportation has a grave effect on air and water quality in Indiana.
    4. The last map shows heavily populated urban areas in Indiana. These residential areas have large populations and lots of infrastructure to support them. More infrastructure means residents should be prepared for higher temperatures, especially during hot seasons.
  3. Online Health Tools
    1. There are a lot of online tools that you can use to track the environmental quality in your area---you just have to know where to look! The EPA website is a great place to start. To check the quality of natural waterways in your community or state, visit How’s My Waterway on the EPA website. To track Superfund Sites on the EPA’s national priorities list, visit the Superfund National Priorities List (NPL) Where You Live Map. This page has a list of Superfund Sites by state and an interactive map.
    2. Maps can also be tools to monitor health risks in your area. One example is a map from ProPublica titled ‘The Most Detailed Map of Cancer-Causing Industrial Air Pollution in the U.S.’ You can use this map to see if air quality in your area is heavily impacted by industrial emissions.
    3. To find opportunities to visit natural areas, search online for the Indiana Nature Preserve Finder. The Indiana Department of Natural Resources website offers a list of nature preserves open to the public in each county. There’s also an interactive map that shows the nature preserves throughout Indiana. Visiting natural areas like nature preserves is great for your physical and mental wellbeing!
  4. Monitor Air Quality
    1. Air quality can greatly impact our health and even how well our days are. By checking the Air Quality Index daily, we can track air quality in our area and determine the best days to go out or to stay inside. The Air Quality Index measures air quality based on the amount of particulate matter, a key air pollutant, present in the air.
    2. You can track the air quality in your area daily by locating the air quality index in your weather app on your phone.
  5. Test Your Water Quality
    1. Water quality is just as important to your health as air quality. If you are experiencing issues with your tap water, you should purchase a water testing kit or contact your local water supplier. Signs of poor water quality include when the water causes illness, has an odd odor or color, or stains clothes and surfaces.
    2. When you rely on a public water supply, your municipality is responsible for monitoring water quality. This is much different from when residents use private wells. When using a private well, keep in mind that homeowners are responsible for regularly checking water quality, not the local municipality. It is recommended that private well water be tested regularly.
  6. Water Infrastructure
    1. The quality of your water is also dependent on what type of water infrastructure you’re using to supply your home with water. Lead pipes are extremely dangerous to use for your drinking water supply! As lead pipes begin to erode from use, they will contaminate your water with lead. Lead pipes are extremely outdated infrastructure and should be replaced immediately! Copper or steel pipes are much safer options for supplying your home with water.
    2. It is important to keep in mind that your water infrastructure differs from your water source. While my water comes from Lake Michigan as my water source, water is actually supplied to my home through steel pipes, which is my home’s water infrastructure.
  7. Heat Waves Without an Air Conditioner
    1.  Heat waves can be unbearable for many people, and it’s an even more serious event when you do not have air conditioning to keep cool. The most important rule when the weather is hot is to stay hydrated! Keep yourself, those around you, and your pets hydrated when the heat rises.
    2. You can also use fans to circulate the air in your home, but don’t open the windows during the daytime! It is best to open your windows at night to let cool air in, then close the windows during the day when temperatures are at their highest. Similarly, it is best to stay downstairs when it is hot because heat will naturally rise to the upper levels of your home. You can even visit public facilities that have air conditioning when temperatures get too high!
    3. Overall, one of the most important things to know during heat waves is how heat impacts your body. You should be able to recognize all heat-related conditions and their symptoms. When someone begins to suffer from heat exhaustion or heat stroke, cool them down and get them help immediately!

Section 4: Campus Involvement

  1. Section Slide - Campus Involvement
  2. Nurses Climate Challenge
    1. IUN is committed to climate resiliency, and we show this in different ways. One of the programs IUN is dedicated to is the Nurses Climate Challenge! According to their mission statement, “The Nurses Climate Challenge is a national campaign led by Health Care Without Harm and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments which provides resources to nurses to meet the goal of educating 50,000 health professionals about the health impacts of climate change by 2022.”
    2. The nursing program at IUN enrolls many students that will receive essential information on how to care for those impacted by climate change. Being a part of this program is a huge step towards climate resilience for nursing students at IUN!
  3.  IUN Community Garden
    1. When you see a vacant lot, do you ever wonder what it could be used for? Or maybe why it hasn’t been used for anything yet? At IUN, a vacant lot was put to use for the benefit of the campus community as well as residents of Gary!
    2. The empty lot was converted to a native plant and vegetable garden that provides many people with the opportunity to garden and grow their own food! IUN students, faculty and staff, and local community members can join the IUN community garden to learn more about gardening techniques and growing nutritious foods!
    3. Anyone can volunteer to become a community garden steward! Stewards are tasked with tending to specifically assigned garden boxes during the growing season. The growing season takes place between April and October each year. Stewards can work independently or as part of a team. To sign up for garden stewardship, please visit the website shown here.
  4. Community Food Security
    1. IUN plays a part in the production of healthy, locally-sourced food in Northwest Indiana. For people struggling with food insecurity, local food security organizations and farmers markets can be key in getting the food they need.
    2. The Northwest Indiana Food Council is working to create a reliable food system for all Northwest Indiana counties through service, education, and advocacy work. Contributing to this system is The Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, a non-profit organization that partners with local agencies and programs to provide residents of Lake and Porter counties with food.
    3. The Gary Food Council is also working to create and support a strong food system in Gary, Indiana, by educating residents about food and farming issues. Faith Farms is a part of Gary’s community-based food system and offers fresh, nutritious food like vegetables and eggs. 
    4. If you don’t have a green thumb, you can support local farmers markets instead! There are farmers markets located in many Northwest Indiana cities, like Gary, Hobart, Chesterton, Valparaiso, Michigan City, and LaPorte. And if your community doesn’t have a nearby farmers market, advocate for one!
  5. Little Calumet Trail
    1. Another way to get some exercise is to take advantage of the Little Calumet Trail at IUN! When you walk along the trail, which is located on the north side of campus, you will see prairies and wetlands full of beautiful native plants. You can even spot native birds and other wildlife!
    2. The Little Calumet Trail is a part of the Greenlink Corridor, which connects the Grand and Little Calumet Rivers, and the Lake Michigan shoreline. This natural area is full of biodiversity and is perfect for relaxing nature walks.
  6. Planting Trees for Climate Resilience
    1. To make our campus more climate resilient, over one-hundred trees have been planted at IUN since 2019. These trees will provide more shade to battle the heat island effect, improve air and water quality, and promote mental well being on campus! 
    2. You can improve the canopy in your community by planting trees at home! And if you would like more information on tree planting or how to volunteer locally, look into the Communitree program or the Student Conservation Association.
  7. Goal & Plan
    1. Our goal is to improve public health on our campus and in our communities! To accomplish this, we must advocate for the inclusion of environmental justice and a focus on climate resilience at home, on campus, and in our municipalities!
  8. Out
    1. For more information on our dedication to health and wellness at IUN, please visit the Office of Sustainability website! 

Image Sources:

  1. - Nurses Climate Challenge - IUN Partnership
  2. - climate change & urban heat
  3. - Food deserts
  5.,waterways%20inaccessible%20to%20adjacent%20neighborhoods. - urban waters
  6. - IN water quality
  7. - drinking water
  8. - environmental justice
  9. - race and toxic facility placement
  10. - home water testing EPA
  11. ; - Chicago heat wave
  12. - water infrastructure
  13.,to%20close%20curtains%20and%20blinds. - heat waves without a/c
  14. Water quality in IN waterways:
  15. Lead in East Chicago:,and%20runoff%20into%20drainage%20ditches.
  16. Lead in soil EPA:
  17. Map of cancer causing industrial air pollution -