March 15 Don't Frack CA Rally I’m thinking to myself, “Man, I wish I could get a bird’s eye view of this!” I was one among thousands (estimates ranging from 2000 to 4000+) of so-called “fractivists” in Sacramento on March 15 for what is being called the largest anti-fracking demonstration in California history.

The participants were a diverse mix of folks from all over California who managed to encircle the Capitol building, bringing a simple message to Governor Jerry Brown and legislators: fracking poses too high a risk to our water, air, food, climate, and health to be considered a ‘safe, alternative’ energy option – time to ban it in California!

I squirreled my way as close as I could to the stage at the north steps of the Capitol building, amidst an ocean of anti-fracking signs such as “No Fracking Way” and “Climate Leaders Don’t Frack!”

(Note to self: ‘Don’t poke your eye out with the corners of protest signs.’)Don't Frack CA Rally2

The rally was organized by Californians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition of more than 150 organizations, including 350.org, CREDO, Food and Water Watch, Oil Change International, Greenpeace, Sierra Club San Francisco Bay Chapter, Ecological Farming Association, and others. Over 20 buses were chartered to bring people from all over California.

Fracking – short for hydraulic fracturing — is a method of oil and gas production that involves injecting a concoction of millions of gallons of water, sand and toxic chemicals, under high pressure deep into the earth in order to break up rock formations, allowing oil and gas to be released more easily.

It struck me – this was not a typical Bay Area crowd of aging environmentalists or raging grannies (though they were there too) and young radicals (though they were here as well). In addition to those who might self-identify as environmentalists, these were farmers, nurses, fishermen, students, academics, indigenous groups, and citizens from both California’s cities and from rural Central Valley, which is bearing the brunt of fracking activities.

Students at Don't Frack CA RallyStudents were well-represented at the rally. Wes Adrianson and Kristy Drutman, representing UC Berkeley Students Against Fracking, didn’t mince words: “Don’t frack our future! We may be young, but we are powerful!”

They targeted Governor Brown specifically, saying that the environmental reputation he may have with others is well-lost on their generation if he continues to support fracking. “We won’t remember your environmental triumphs of the ‘70s. We weren’t even born then,” Wes said. “But we’ll remember how you sold out our generation and future generations to industry with no regard for the environment or human health.”

Tom Frantz, a Kern County almond farmer and clean air advocate, told the crowd in an inspiring speech: “If you are eating carrots, lettuce, tomatoes from California, you are eating foods from fields where fracking is happening right now.” Frantz is among a growing number of farmers — concerned about the unnecessary waste of water in an already water-stressed region — who are calling for a fracking moratorium.

“They don’t clean or recycle this water,” Frantz lamented. “It’s simply contaminated, then put deep within the earth forever! We’ll never see it again. It’s gone from the water cycle. We cannot continue to grow food and breathe healthy air and maintain a healthy water supply…the only “winners” I see are those making the short-term profits. Everyone else is losing!”

Another farmer, a Mexican-American man from the Central Valley, spoke to the crowd in Spanish, translated by Rodrigo Romo of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment: “I’m worried about the health of my children, the health of my grandchildren! I’m worried what this is doing to the farmlands themselves; how it’s affecting the future viability of the soil itself!”

Pennie Opal Plant, an indigenous activist and small business owner from Richmond, who is active in the Bay Area affinity group Idle No More, spoke elegantly about indigenous resistance to not just fracking, but fossil fuel extraction across North and South America. Speaking of Mother Earth, Plant said, “We are not her failed experiment. That is not what we are. We are her immune response.” See her speech here.

It turns out others were able to get a bird’s-eye-view from above (Image Credit:  Ray Breaux, 350.org)

It turns out others were able to get a great bird’s-eye view (Image Credit: Ray Breaux, 350.org)

Elise Gyore, Legislative Director for State Senator Holly Mitchell, took to the stage to plug fracking moratorium legislation (SB1132) and to urge Californians to call and write their representatives to support it. The bill, sponsored by California State Senators Holly Mitchell and Mark Leno, would place a moratorium on fracking and well stimulation, including a newer technique called acidization, both onshore and offshore, until the state Natural Resources Agency completed a study (mandated by last year’s fracking bill SB4) and Governor Brown ensures that fracking and well stimulation are not harmful to California’s public health and the environment.

She also urged people to come to the public hearing in the Senate Natural Resources Committee on April 8 at 9:30am at the Capitol.

I wanted to give a shout-out to the legendary Pete Seeger, who passed away earlier this year. He no doubt would have been in Sacramento in solidarity — as he was in New York — leading fractivists in song and spirit.

Click here for a great round-up of coverage of the event. And on Twitter dial into the hashtag #DontFrackCA.

Guest Blog by Gustavo Aguirre Jr.

8 AM: Tuesday, March 18th 2014

A resident in Arvin, CA gets a knock at the door.

A staff person with the Kern County Public Health Department greets the homeowner and states to her that there is very high level (later known to be explosive levels) of gas leaking into her home from a broken pipeline underneath the home. The county worker suggests to the homeowner that it might be a good idea to leave the residence, but only on a voluntary basis, for her own health benefit. Then the county worker walks to the next house, and so on for a total of eight homes.

The county worker did not state it was an emergency, so the family stayed home and continued on with their daily routine.

This resident and her family had been smelling a very strong odor of gas for about three months, mainly coming in from electricity outlets; however she never reported it because she did not know where to report it.

Arvin residents in that area of Nelson Court, had seen PG&E drilling holes in and around their homes and yards the week before, thinking nothing of it. The homeowners assumed that PG&E was fixing the gas leak.

3 PM: March 18, 2014

As a community organizer, I Gustavo Aguirre Jr, working with GCM visited a total of five homes in Nelson Court.  ALL OF the residents that I visited confirmed that they had smelled the gas for about 2 to 3 months and were growing concerned with the situation.  Why did it take 2 to 3 months to detect a major gas leak?! Why were residents not warned IMMEDIATELY that the levels of gas in their homes had reached explosive levels?!

6 PM: March 18, 2014

Arvin City Council held their regular meeting, however this meeting was much less routine.  With a heavy media presence, Kern County Supervisor, Leticia Perez, and the Director of Public Health, Matt Constantine, stated and pleaded to the Council that an emergency evacuation for the eight homes on Nelson Court was of the highest priority. 

6:50 PM: March 18, 2014

With the homeowner’s permission, I took an a Bucket sample (air sample) at a residence on Nelson Court.

7 PM: March 18, 2014

Once they made their concerns public, both Mrs. Perez and Mr. Constantine left the meeting to witness the emergency evacuation of all eight homes, including those where the explosive levels of gas were detected. It was then when a resident of one of the homes invited me in to take a Bucket sample (air quality sample) of a room with a very heavy gas odor.

However, only the residents of those eight homes were told of the emergency evacuation.  Many of the folks living just across the street are under the impression that there is little danger to their health and safety.

What the community members still don’t understand is, why did the County wait until 7pm to decide that this was an emergency situation? Especially, if they knew that levels of gas were already at explosive levels at 8am that morning!

In the same home where I took the Bucket air sample, one resident stated, “My pregnant daughter is the one who sleeps in the room with the highest smell of gas, last week she got up to use the restroom and while she was walking to the restroom she passed out on the floor.” This same resident stated that she had been feeling sick these past weeks and now she might believe it has to do with the contestant exposure to the gases from the broken pipeline. However, aside from “high levels of gas” no other information was given to the residents on what they may have been exposed over that time.

According to news reports, Kern County Environmental Health said the line is a field gas line, not natural gas. This basically means it’s a waste oil field gas going to flared, or burned off.

According to the county, until the leak, Petro Capital Resources had no idea the line existed even though it was in use.

The County is unclear how long the leak has been going on. It took several days to track down the owner, a problem it said is common because there is no one agency that keeps track of all underground pipelines.

In two of the eight homes evacuated, two households have pregnant women and are concerned for the health of their families and themselves.

The following day, after the families were evacuated, myself, Gustavo Aguirre and Juan Florez from Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, visited the families at the hotel (paid for by Petro Capital Resources), they all relayed the urgency to return home and have the county provide a health impact assessment.

We’re expecting the results of the air sample to be back from the laboratory in a few days.  Stay tuned, results will be released Monday, March 24, 2014…………

In late February, GCM made its maiden voyage to Jamaica to train two very different communities on our tried and true Bucket Brigade, as well as launching a few new monitoring tools from our toolkit – water & soil monitoring. IMG_0774 (640x480) (640x480)P1010858 (480x640)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, the sunburn has faded and the nasty head-cold, that seemed to be passing on island time, has finally run its course.  So, here’s what we learned:

1.   Jamaicans are awesome.

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From the time we arrived to the day we left, everyone that we worked with was very well organized and ready to take the Bucket Brigade project head on.  Our training packed churches and schoolhouses, and everyone was interested in participating.

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For this project, GCM partnered with the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), an an environmental education and advocacy organization that has been working with communities all over the country. 

The two JET staff members that are

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coordinating the project are not only lawyers, but also fierce community organizers.  Together we identified two heavily impacted communities, planned the project out with the community leaders, tied up (almost all of) the logistics and set out on a walking tour of the neighborhoods to get a better idea of sampling locations.

AND – these folks are most definitely experts of their community!  They told us all about the sediment slide, caused by Caribbean Cement Company and their gypsum mine in the Ten Miles community, in 2002 as they were shepherding me down to 

eroded river bed.  They remembered every detail from 2002 while alerting me to every loose rock where I could lose my footing.  The dust in this community is so bad that you can see it rising up through the trees from the bottom of the mountain, right in front of an elementary school. 

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The other community tour was no different with the community leaders expressing deep concern regarding the overflow of wastewater from Jamalco’s  aluminium mine, while pulling me out of the way of an angry (and kicking!) donkey.

Bottom line: These folks have what it takes to be successful – knowledge, persistence and determination.  They are ready to take on community monitoring with the Bucket Brigade; they just need the tools to do it.

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3.   The Red Stripe tastes better.

Unfortunately, Lagunitas Brewing Company has yet to expand their distribution market to Jamaica.  DO NOT PANIC!  The Red Stripe beer actually tastes much better in Kingston than anywhere I’ve tried it in the States.

Also worth noting, if given a choice between eating Saltfish and Ackee or a Lobster Patty, go with the Lobster Patty!  Although Saltfish and Ackee is delicious, the Lobster Patties are by far the best thing I’ve ever consumed in my life; and honestly you’ll have multiple opportunities to try the Saltfish and Ackee, but never pass up goat curry cooked by the native villagers.

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4.   Industry will be industry.

Over the years, we at GCM have seen lots of different industry, but more often than not, the company’s main focus is “dollars and cents, instead of common sense”.  And, unfortunately, this careless company principle crosses many borders.  From toxic waste water overflow in New Town from the aluminium refinery, to toxic waste sediment in Bull Bay  from the gypsum mine; environmental injustice is worldwide.

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BUT – so is the crazy idea that community organizing can change that and recreate a truly sustainable environment for the next generation.

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Remember, a little over a year ago, when the State of California proposed new fracking regulations?  Remember how they do not regulate air pollution associated with fracking?  Well they are currently in the public comment period and we want to make sure Governor Jerry Brown hears our concerns about the air pollution associated with fracking.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014:  GCM staff traveled to California’s Central Valley to unite with the residents living on the front lines of the fracking boom, to express concerns regarding the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources’ (DOGGR) proposed regulations at a public hearing held at the Kern County Administrative Building.  What a trip!!

Residents traveled from all over the Central Valley, showed up early with signs and anti-fracking chants.  We staged a rally out front and cheered as motorists honked in support.  Then, one by one, we filed in and filled out our cards to make public comment.  Everyone could agree that these proposed regulations were not going to protect the health and safety of Valley residents from the potential pollution associated with fracking.

Governor Brown’s new fracking regulations are flawed, especially related to air pollution by:

  • a lack of air monitoring;

  • inadequate control of emissions from fracking and related production operations;

  • a lack of regulation on flares. Flare in Shafter

Back in December, GCM Staff connected with concerned residents in Shafter, CA where there is nearly constant flaring going on at a fracking site.  The flare is just upwind of a school and community garden, where residents have reported acute health effects, like burning eyes and sore throats.

Central Valley residents, active with the Bucket Brigade, were able to collect an air sample, near this site, in Shafter.   

The results show a presence of five different chemicals, known to be associated with fracking operations as well as increased levels of methane, also common near fracking sites.

The level of acrylonitrile detected at this location, 5.9 µg/m3, is 590 times the reference level set by the US EPA, to be associated with an increased risk of cancer for a lifetime of exposure.  Additionally, it also exceeds the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) chronic reference exposure level, and could pose an increased risk for negative health effects on the respiratory system.

The sample results also detected a mix of toxic chemicals, including  styrene, chlorobenzene, toluene and ethanol, as well as a methane level of 2.7 ppm, which is higher than normal background levels, indicating that this sample location may be impacted by localized emissions of methane.

Considering that California’s Central Valley has some of the worst air quality in the Country, air pollution from fracking could serve to overburden residents living in the Central Valley. Especially among vulnerable populations like children, pregnant women, seniors and those with already compromised immune systems.

Residents of the Central Valley, and all other parts of California, deserve clean air not fracking wells.  Not able to express your concerns at a public hearing?  No problem.  Comments can be submitted online.  Take action for clean air and let Governor Brown know that you oppose fracking in California!

gcm-logoWhew, 2013 is just about over and looking back, Global Community Monitor has been busy!!

Check out our victories and accomplishments as well as some of the groundwork we’ve laid to move forward.

Victories

Buffalo, NY: Company Tried and Convicted for Environmental Crimes, Reduction of Cancer Causing Benzene

Tonawanda Coke and their Environmental Manager were found guilty of 14 acts violating the Clean Air Act in March.  This decision came almost ten years after a GCM Bucket Brigade training and air samples exposing benzene in the Tonawanda air. Through relentless activism by residents of Tonawanda, and the the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, Tonawanda Coke will be $200 million in fines and cleaning up their act.

Chicago, IL: Community Wins Demands for Rail Yard Expansion

Environmental Law Policy Center (ELPC), Sustainable Englewood Initiatives (SEI), Northwestern University Environmental Law Clinic and other community partners have successfully negotiated a fair deal to reduce air pollution and increase parkland with the rail yard expansion in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

The majority of the groups think that the monitoring played a huge role in pushing the City and Norfolk Southern to come to an agreement.  By the time we were installing the monitors, the City was reaching out to ELPC to set up a time to meet.

Scrap Metal Rule: Building On Metal Recycler Air Pollution Policy Victory

Due to GCM’s persistent efforts, and the release of our report – Green Industry? Under the Radar: Air Pollution from Metal Recyclers, the BAAQMD became the first agency in the nation to issue a rule to regulate toxic emissions from these facilities. The Air District estimates that these rules will reduce particulate matter emissions in the Bay Area by about 12 tons per year.

Train the Trainer: GCM has just begun a pilot “Train the Trainer” project with the Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) based in Anchorage, AK. GCM staff joined ACAT for a one day training in Anchorage and then ventured together to Nuiqsut, a small native village on the North Slope which is deeply entrenched in oil & gas development with no emergency response options for accidents.

Issues

With the expansion of the Panama Canal, a lot more traffic can be expected in our port communities, as well as communities living near freeways and transit hubs.  Many residents are concerned about the potential increase in diesel emissions, especially when so many are already overburdened by toxic air pollution.

Houston, TX: Partner organization Air Alliance Houston (AAH) has been a pivotal networking ally.  Our results demonstrate that the “official” State monitor for PM 2.5 do not represent the accurately PM impacts in the the Ship Channel and fall just below the Federal standard.  This monitor’s readings will determine if the Houston area is out of compliance and trigger a multi-million-billion dollar clean up.

Kansas: GCM conducted a training in Gardner, KS to collect baseline measurements prior to the completion of a huge new intermodal terminal which scheduled to go online in this community.

GCM also trained residents in Argentine/Turner area which is home to a huge existing intermodal terminal. Both communities are near Kansas City.

Plaquemines Parish, LA: GCM held a training in July. Plaquemines Parish Port is the gateway to the Ports of New Orleans and Baton Rouge and to all of the Mississippi River Valley export corridor. Two of the country’s biggest coal terminals are located at this Port.  We are partnered with the Gulf Restoration Network and the local Sierra Club Chapter.  One site is the Historic Freed Slave Community of Ironton.

Although the Keystone XL Pipeline is in the forefront of the tar sands debate, many US cities are already seeing heavy crude oil in their communities.

Mayflower, AR: EMERGENCY RESPONSE Tar sands Oil Spill

On March 29, Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured releasing 80,000 gallons of Wabascan (Alberta, Canada) tar sands crude, also known as bitumen, in Mayflower, a small suburban town outside of Little Rock. The pipeline carries tar sands from Alberta to Illinois to Texas via Arkansas.

GCM trained Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group on the Bucket Brigade in 2012, after the spill, the Citizens group immediately went onsite and gained access for the first week-taking samples, documenting health symptoms and also getting sick.

Mobile 045Whiting, IN: GCM conducted a community training on fenceline real time air monitoring results in East Chicago/Whiting, IN, with long standing community partner, Calumet Project. This training is a direct result of the lawsuit with BP Whiting on their tar sands expansion in 2008.

Toledo, OH: GCM submitted comments Ohio EPA in June 2013 opposing BP/Husky’s tar sands expansion.  Following on the string of expansions of Midwestern refineries (BP Whiting, Marathon Detroit), a BP-Husky joint venture is pushing forward with a $2.5 billion expansion of its refinery in Toledo, Ohio to process tar sands crude oil.

Benicia, CA: GCM is working with local community group Good Neighbor Steering Committee and the Natural Resources Defense Council on stopping tar sands from being brought in by rail to Valero oil refinery in Benicia.

Pittsburgh, CA: GCM staff is working with the newly formed Pittsburgh Defense Council to counter  the WesPac Energy oil terminal and transfer station. WesPac Energy-Pittsburg LLC plans to turn a 125-acre area of industrial land near homes by the Pittsburg Marina into a facility to unload crude oil from ships and rail cars, store it in giant round tanks, and then send it through pipelines to local refineries. Under the revised plan, it will be possible to offload an average of 242,000 barrels a day of crude oil or partially refined crude oil from both ships and rail cars.

Well, this is just going to have to be a surprise for next year.  Get ready, it’s going to be a big one!!

And Just a Few More – By Location

Bay Area

Body Burden: GCM is continuing work on this study, despite delays. Since May 2013, we have 12 families consented to participate in the project, have taken 11 questionnaires, four wipe samples at the participants home and five blood samples.  Samples will be tested for the same heavy metals we documented in the air, to determine just how impacted nearby neighbors may be.

Richmond: GCM signed a contract with the city of Richmond to advise on the Community Air Monitoring as a direct result of the Chevron fire on August 6, 2012. Chevron is installing real time air monitoring equipment with Argos Environmental.

GCM is advising on locations of monitors, community engagement on how to use the information and overall emissions reductions. You can check it out here.

Central Valley

Arvin: In September GCM has closed an active two year project with the town of Arvin and the Committee for A Better Arvin and Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. During the past two years, the Committee have recorded 440 pollution incidents, taken 15 bucket air samples and 20 particulate matter samples. Results show elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide and diesel. GCM has also worked to pilot a new ozone monitor in this ozone impacted community.

All groups will continue to engage with the Air District, County Supervisors and EPA on air quality issues related to the Community Recycling (composting) facility in nearby Lamont.  GCM has worked with CRPE and CBA to establish a new working relationship and to begin another year long project. Additionally, GCM expanded our team and hired Gustavo Aguirre Jr. as the Central Valley Organizer.

International

GCM continues to develop projects with international partners in China, Jamaica, Mexico, Egypt, Philippines, and Chile.

India: GCM organizational partner Shweta Narayan from Chennai, Tamil Nadu in Southern India visited the US.  Community Environmental Monitors continue to work around cement kiln incinerators throughout the country.

You can listen to an interview with Shweta and Denny on this podcast by Annie Leonard, Story of Stuff as part of a series on “Good Stuff”:

 

 

US Fencelines, ongoing technical assistance

New Mexico: GCM is partnering with the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) on a statewide initiative. To date New Mexico and Navajo nation leaders have taken samples including:

  • Seven bucket samples documenting the fingerprint of asphalt operations and sixteen particle and diesel samples exposing elevated exposure to the idling trains in the San Jose neighborhood of Albuquerque.

  • Over 40 particulate matter samples documenting the dust levels from the BHP coal mine on the Navajo nation reserve. These samples have consistently shown levels higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) 24 hour health based guidelines for PM 10. Further testing on crystalline silica from coal is being conducted.

  • Taken seven bucket samples in Mesquite. These samples gave solid evidence that Helena Chemicals operations are not limited to their property and are over flowing into the community.

Delaware: GCM continues to work with community partners and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Claymont: Is on the fourth year of their air monitoring work focused on Evraz Steel. Evraz has installed a portion of the environmental controls to reduce emissions at the facility.  Recent samples and complaints demonstrated that dust problems continues to be serious and led to further enforcement actions against the facility.

Delaware City: GCM conducted a follow up training in Delaware City around the PBF Energy refinery on particulate air monitoring.

ImageOn Friday Dec. 6th, Kern County Superior Court Judge, J. Eric Bradshaw, ruled against Kern County, CA and its residents, in favor of Community Recycling and Resource Recovery.  The facility can continue operations as usual and is no longer responsible for a $2.3 million fine in connection with the deaths of two workers in 2011.

The two young workers were killed from hydrogen sulfide exposure while working at the facility on Oct. 12, 2011.  Over a month later, on Nov. 15, 2011 the Kern County Board of Supervisor levied the $2.3 million dollar fine and revoked Community Recycling’s operating permit.

 

Apparently, “the decision by Kern County Supervisors to quickly close down a Lamont-area composting facility after the deaths of two men violated due process” according to the Bakersfield Californian.

Two young workers were killed from hydrogen sulfide exposure while working at the facility on Oct. 12, 2011.  Over a month later, on Nov. 15, 2011 the Kern County Board of Supervisor levied the $2.3 million dollar fine and revoked Community Recycling’s operating permit.  Although it’s important to respect due process, how long can we be expected to wait on it while many more young workers’ lives may be at stake?  Especially considering Cal-OSHA findings, that five times, between Oct. 12, 2011 and Nov. 15, 2011, the company violated an agency order that no one come within six feet of any openings or entries to the site’s storm drain system, where the two brothers were found unconscious.  Does the time required for due process put more workers and community members at risk? 

It’s becoming more and more apparent that this facility is not operating in the safest manner and does not want to cooperate with the agencies or elected officials.  “The bottom line is, I just can’t believe this company anymore” according to Kern County Supervisor, Mike Maggard.  So how can we ensure the safety of the workers and the community?!  Sal Partida, the President of the Committee for a Better Arvin has a great point, “These innocent people, they had no idea that they were going to go to work that day and die,” and yet the risk still isn’t eliminated.

The Committee for a Better Arvin, in collaboration with Global Community Monitor and the Center for Race Poverty and the Environment, have been collecting air samples near the facility with the Bucket Brigade.  Sample results continue to show a presence of hydrogen sulfide, the same deadly gas that killed the two workers.  This gas is not only a danger to the workers, but the samples confirm that that same gas is escaping from the facility into the community and putting the residents’ health at risk.  

Long-term exposure to hydrogen sulfide is associated with an elevated incidence of respiratory infections, irritation of the eye, nose and throat, coughing, breathlessness, nausea, headache, and mental health impacts, including depression.

Yet, the facility can continue business as usual and is no longer responsible for the $2.3 million fine, because of due process.  One month is not an adequate amount of time for the company to defend itself for killing two workers, violating OSHA orders and repeatedly misleading the Kern County Board of Supervisors?  Case closed?!?!

Well not exactly, considering we’ve got a pretty fierce group of activists in the region.  After taking a few days to lick our wounds, we dusted ourselves off and got back to work.  If the County has a “lots of options” we’ll be there, expressing our concerns and fighting for justice.  Where is due process for the two workers that were killed at the facility?  Is there one set of rules for the corporations and a different set for the workers and community residents?

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We’ve all been warned, “Don’t eat the yellow snow.”

Well in Nuisqut, Alaska the snow is yellow for a whole different reason. One that is even worse than what you were originally thinking.

Nuisqut is a small village, inhabited mostly by Alaskan Natives, on the North Slope of Alaska.  It has a population of a little over 400, and the majority of folks are Native Alaskans, living off of the land according to traditional customs.  

However, oil and gas extraction is not part of that heritage.  

The native village is sandwiched between two ever-expanding oil and gas extraction fields, both of which are suspected to send toxic pollution into the village.  In the winter months, residents routinely report seeing a yellow haze in the air that falls to the ground and turns the snow yellow.  

Unfortunately, yellow snow in Nuiqsut, Alaska is more than just “watch out where the huskies go”; yellow snow is toxic pollution.  

Obviously, no one is eating any snow when the yellow haze falls to the ground, but toxic pollution in native villages is hard to contain when the majority of the population lives off of the land.  Have the caribou ever heard Frank Zappa’s warning?  What about the wolverines and polar bear?  And what effect do those chemicals have on the people when, according to tribal traditions, that meat is consumed?  Not to mention the health impacts when the yellow haze is inhaled or the effect on the ground water.

Maybe this is why it is so important for Global Community Monitor staff to travel all the way to the North Slope of Alaska to train the residents on citizen based monitoring through the Bucket Brigade.

Nuiqsut residents have no intention of shutting down the oil and gas fields.  They just want open lines of communication between themselves and the oil and gas companies.  They want to know when an accident occurs.  They want an emergency plan in place to ensure their children will be safe.  They want to ensure that the air, water and food that their families consume is safe.

So let the Bucket Brigade begin and with hard work, hopefully the residents of Nuiqsut, Alaska will be able to enjoy clean white snow again.

300770_2598161672603_309586047_nBorn and raised in California and coming from a family of activists, I was raised around community and union organizing with my father and grandpa in the United Farm Workers Union in Central and Southern California.  As a child I soon embraced and lived by the social equality emphasis my parents evoked on me as farm workers.  As a teen still in Middle and High School, I organized and was in charge of walking precincts in political campaigns in the Los Angeles area as well as in the Coachella and Central Valley.

I have devoted hundreds of hours in volunteer work organizing communities with farm workers’ rights and environmental justice with Organizations such as The United Farm Workers Union, Committee for A Better Arvin and Center on Poverty, Race and the Environment. While in High School, I also was responsible for organized walk-outs in support of the Dream Act and Dreamers.

Furthermore, my passion for social and environmental equality for everyone has lead me to this new Bucket Brigade Organizer position with Global Community Monitor in Kern County  and I am excited to defend the human right to breath clean air and work towards bringing justice to the community in collaboration with various other local, grassroots organizations.

Dateline Houston, Texas:  Houston we have a problem: Six little inches of air will determine whether millions of dollars will be spent to clean up the air of millions of people in the Oil and Chemical Capital of the World.

Houston has one of the largest urban networks of air monitors and some of the worst air pollution in the nation.  This is all thanks to their Master Un-Plan.  Thanks to the complete lack of any zoning regulations; freeways, refineries and chemical plants sit right on top of neighborhoods, schools, day cares, hospitals and the like.  Ozone alert days telling everyone to stay inside are a frequent occurrence.

Despite all the monitors in this vast area, the federal determination about Houston’s air quality index for the smallest and most hazardous particle may come down to how about 6 inches of the hundreds of square miles of air is measured.

Two key State run monitors for the pesky PM 2.5 micron size particle are in the bustling Ship Channel area of Galena Park, home to hundreds of major industrial air polluters and the ginormous Port of Houston, filled with trucks, tugs, tankers and diesel powered engines.  All of these are large contributors to PM 2.5 pollution.  The Federal health based standard for PM 2.5 is 12 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24 hour period.

If the two State monitors in the Ship Channel average over 12 this year, the area will be in violation of the Federal Standard to protect human health and be faced with spending hundreds of millions of dollars to clean it up.  Much of that cost would be passed on to the polluters to clean up their emissions.

The State uses standard air monitoring technology, which captures air through a 3-inch intake, so together the two monitors are breathing in 6 inches of air total in this vast region.

And those monitors are supposed to be very thoughtfully located to accurately represent that huge zone.  One has to pause here and question the wisdom and accuracy of these assumptions, but these are the cards we are all currently dealt by our State and Federal Agencies’ clearly outdated protocols and systems.

Right now the more important of the two monitors is located on the very edge of a little community known as Galena Park.  Most of the residents of Galena Park are nowhere near the monitor.  The current average level of PM 2.5 pollution at the Galena Park site is sitting at 11.6, just shy of a violation.

And that’s right where many local politicians, the Port, industry and the State of Texas want to keep it, below 12.

Maybe that’s why several million dollars was spent by these folks to pave dirt roads in the Port adjacent to the monitor site.  And why trees were planted as a buffer to filter particles before they get sucked into that precious 3 inches of Houston’s air.

However, community members in Galena Park together with the non-profit Air Alliance Houston got trained by the Global Community Monitor to do their own independent tests to get to the bottom of what most of the residents of the area are breathing.

Results from 6 months of tests show that the levels of PM 2.5 (taken at 5 sites including schools, City Hall and neighborhoods) are averaging an unhealthy 15.6, well above the Federal standard.

According to recent peer reviewed studies, the levels of fine particles in the air that is often available for breathing in Galena Park could cause hospitalization, heart attack, stroke or premature death.

Of course these areas did not get the benefits of extra paving on Port roads near them and not a single sapling either.

It’s curious that three little inches of air got so much attention and investment so a machine could breathe healthy air, while the 10,000 residents of Galena Park get unhealthy air and zero investment.

But then again you have to consult the Master Un-Plan: unlimited and unplanned growth is encouraged in Texas.

Like Governor Rick says, “We’re open for business in Texas.”  It’s becoming clearer exactly what that means to people trying to breathe in booming places like Houston.

At this rate it’s anybody’s guess how much longer Texas will be “Open for Breathing”.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll remember we officially launched the Arvin Bucket Brigade in December of 2011.  Looking back on this project in California’s Central Valley, I honestly don’t think I had a clue as to what I was signing up for.

In October 2011, two young workers lost their lives after being overcome with hydrogen sulfide at the Community Recycling facility in Lamont, CA. This was the last straw for the community, already overburdened by air pollution, and the residents took matters (and air monitoring equipment) into their own hands.  The Committee for a Better Arvin (CBA) partnered with the Rose Foundation, the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE) and Global Community Monitor (GCM) to get to work documenting air pollution incidents at the Community Recycling (CRRR) facility and advancing policy change in Kern County. 

In less than two years, we have trained 44 residents in three different kinds of air monitoring, collected over 369 pollution logs, 16 VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) and Sulfur samples, 17 diesel samples and 13 Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) samples.

The results continue to confirm community knowledge that the pollution in the area poses a threat to public health.

  • Bucket samples detected up to 24 different chemicals, including hydrogen sulfide.

  • Four of those are above at least one health based standard.

  • The average levels of the PM samples taken at the first sampling location exceeded the WHO’s (World Health Organization) 24 hour standard.

  • Two of the PM 2.5 samples exceeded the EPA & WHO’s 24 hour standard.

  • Five of diesel samples contain levels that pose an excess risk of cardiovascular & respiratory hospitalizations on the day of exposure.

With this data, 16 community members have spoken at six public meetings and issued three press releases  which led to 10 news stories.

Needless to say, we’ve started something here! 

We have captured the attention of the polluter, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD), the Kern County Board of Supervisors, the California Air Resources Board and EPA Region 9.  We have challenged the SJVAPCD to do side by side testing and have worked with County Supervisors to get CRRR’s operating permit revoked.

Yet, the SJVAPCD still has yet to step up to the plate.  They have discredited our results, dismissed community concerns and kicked us off of meeting agendas.  They refuse to come out to the community during resident identified pollution incidents and have refused to meet with concerned residents.  Is there no corporate regulation here?  Is anyone looking out for the best interests of the community and its residents?  Or are the company and the SJVAPCD just looking at the profits?

Saturday, October 12, 2013 marked the two year anniversary of the two young workers’ deaths from hydrogen sulfide exposure and we are still detecting dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide along the fenceline of CRRR.  CRRR has continued to appeal nearly every punitive measure levied against them for their numerous violations and the community is still waiting for a judge’s decision, which could close down the CRRR facility.

So, while we’re waiting, the residents continue to document pollution incidents, collect data use the truth in the fight for clean air and a health community.

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