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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.

Anyone catch the article in the East Bay Express last week, Oakland Officials Withhold Air Pollution Plan?

Image from D. Ross Cameron

The Air District is actually watchdogging City plans and the potential for a significant increase in air pollution in West Oakland, where air pollution is notoriously unhealthy. This might be a first for me but, kudos BAAQMD!

The Air District even suggested some great ideas to mitigate the increase in air pollution associated with the redevelopment, like infrastructure for electrifying trucks and vegetative barriers to trap diesel and particulate matter.  Not to take too much credit, but you read our EXHAUST-ed! report, didn’t you BAAQMD?

But, before we all jump on board and condemn the redevelopment at the old Oakland Army base due to the increased pollution from increased truck, rail and ship traffic; I think it missed one crucial element regarding air pollution in West Oakland, the relocation of the recyclers.

The redevelopment of the old Oakland Army Base will actually help reduce some of the toxic air pollution within the West Oakland community.

Image from Stephen Loewinsohn

Currently, there are two industrial metal recyclers located within residential areas of West Oakland.  Air samples have revealed elevated levels of lead and cadmium in the air surrounding McClymonds High School and many residents trace these air contaminants back to the heavy metal recyclers that are located right across the street from their homes.

After a unified effort between the residents and the business owners, the City agreed to support the relocation of the scrap metal recyclers, from their current location to a much more industrial site at the old Oakland Army Base.  This creates a ‘buffer zone’ or breathing space between the community and the heavy industry, reducing the air emissions, noise, traffic emissions and additional trucks in residential areas.

Either way, considering it’s often times the residents who are forced to demand detailed info from the Air District; it’s nice to watch the Air District hunt down and demand the detailed info they’re looking for.  So, now that the tables have turned, let’s kick back a little and watch it unfold.

But- if you’re an Oakland resident, you should probably call your City Councilmember and remind them that the redevelopment of the old Army Base is an opportunity to install a zero-emission infrastructure to protect our children’s’ health and keep Oakland moving forward.

A bad economy can be responsible for a slew of financial problems and hardships.

Courtesy of thekitchencabinet.us

Maybe you’re struggling to find a job, trying to get by with furlough days or unable to put any money aside as savings; ultimately, we are all forced to do more with less.

But what does a bad economy mean for fenceline communities?  Probably many of the above, but residents in West Oakland, CA are facing an extraordinary challenge as a result of the City’s economic hardships: a clean air solution pulled out from under their feet.

For all of you habitual Airhugger readers out there, you remember the story behind the relocation of the industrial metal recyclers in West Oakland, right?  It’s a win-win solution.  The community, the business and the City all want the recyclers to relocate.  And the City would actually generate revenue by selling this land to the business!

The catch here: the City doesn’t have the money for the upfront costs of infrastructure at this particular industrial site – the former Oakland Army Base.  In other words, the City can no longer afford to build roads, plumbing, electric wiring, etc. at the site, making it not ready for sale, according to the current contract.

Photo taken by STEPHEN LOEWINSOHN

While the City of Oakland struggles to balance its budget, residents in West Oakland are still being exposed to increased air pollution from the same heavy industry that the City promised to relocate over a year ago.

Read the rest of this entry »

Raise your hand if you separate kitchen scraps, throw it in your green bin for municipal composting, and feel like you’re doing good for the environment.

Don’t be embarrassed, I’m with you here!

But, where does it actually go?  And, who is double checking to make sure it only contains organic matter? 

Global Community Monitor has recently launched a new Bucket Brigade in Arvin, CA; a city noted for having the worst air quality in The States.  The number one facility that the residents want to monitor, is a compost facility, that accepts municipal waste.

Nothing about this facility, Community Recycling, echoes the clean, green side of composting.  Recent, Bucket tests have even identified elevated levels of hazardous chemicals escaping across Community Recycling’s fenceline and into the community.

Is this progress?

Sure, it’s convenient for residents of Los Angeles County.  Waste Management delivers a little green bin to put in the kitchen, it’s then filled up with kitchen scraps, dumped into the large green waste bin and picked up by Waste Management weekly.  Residents in Alameda County, don’t have to go through the smelly, sometimes laborious job of composting themselves, but feel good about not throwing these items in the trash and often once a year get to go pick up free planting soil, generated by their ‘green’ waste.

But, residents of Arvin, CA live next to Community Recycling, a facility that accepts this ‘green waste’.  This facility is often impossible to drive past without choking and gagging a bit as you’re trying to have a conversation.  AND- from the looks of it, none of this ‘compost’ is something you’d want to use in your garden anyway!  Metal, plastics and even agricultural waste is visible in the ‘compost’ heaps and they have a contract with the Water District to accept grey water and sewage sludge to spray all over this ‘green’ waste.

What’s so green about that?!  Are we working towards a solution here or are we just relocating the problem?  Yes, municipal, curbside pick-up of green waste has many more people separating their food scraps from their trash, but at what cost?

Maybe the real solution here isn’t a free little green bin for kitchen food scraps, but rather a free little compost bin where residents can compost their own kitchen scraps into non-toxic planning soil to re-use in their garden.

As we discussed in our previous post, residents of Arvin, CA want the truth about what is in the air they are breathing. They know they have the worst air quality in the nation, due to ozone pollution, but could the multiple industries be exacerbating the problem with harmful emissions?

To help them determine what is in the air, they invited GCM to provide them with a Bucket Brigade training in February.

The training kicked off at 10am Sunday: GCM brought the Buckets, and the CBA folks brought the coffee, pan dulces and the sheer passion and determination it takes for grassroots change.  And, much appreciation to CRPE for taking on the BIG task of translation between English and Spanish.

The residents of Arvin were organized and ready with a ton of great questions.  GCM led them through the basics of air pollution, mapped out pollution sources in relation to the community and went over the need to record and keep track of pollution incidents with the Pollution Log.

We quickly learned that Arvin is growing!  There are plans for more houses, jobs and industrial expansions.  All great news considering the lagging economy, but this is a pivotal point for the residents who are concerned about the growing air pollution problem that could go hand-in-hand.

Residents want a straight and honest answer about the potential health risks of living so close to industry.  Community members are concerned about the bad odors near some of the industrial facilities.  They complained of rotten eggs, feces and spoiled fruit; often accompanied by acute health effects.

Sal Partida, President of The Committee for a Better Arvin, shared that “when it rains, you can’t tell what color your car was, because all of the pollution lands on it.”

And what better thing to follow-up that conversation than lunch!  We’re met with some surprised faces and laughter, but it usually doesn’t take too long for everyone to re-gain their appetite.   

Lunch, provided by the community residents, was spectacular.  I put my Cliff Bar away and grabbed a plate of fresh seafood salad, with pulled chicken that had been slow cooked with onions and spices.  And  to top it off hibiscus flavored agua fresca!

Then, onward with the training: it’s time to build the Buckets!  Two teams, four Buckets and two GCM trainers geared up for a little competition.  Which team could build it first?

Obviously, the younger team far surpassed their elders!  We had one Bucket up and running in no more than 15 minutes.

Full Disclosure- this team had seen the Buckets in action before at our Intro meeting, and did have some trouble with the vacuum on the second Bucket.  Additionally, there was no need for translation and so we got quite the head start with instructions.

After the other team caught up, we moved into the essential paperwork for sample data and planned out the pollution monitoring plan.  Everything was falling into place.  The farmer has the early morning pollution patrol and the High School girls have the mid-afternoon patrols.  The community residents decided which four activists would be in charge of the Buckets and circulated contact info so everyone can get in touch with them quickly following a pollution incident.  The Arvin Bucket Brigade is ready to go!  Stay tuned for sample results…..

Ever heard of Arvin, California?  Maybe you’ve seen the exit off Highway 99 near LA or maybe you’ve read something about it having some of the worst air quality in the United States.

More recently, Arvin has made the news for a horrible tragedy at a large industrial recycling and compost facility that is putting a further burden on residents by increasing air pollution in an already overburdened community.  In October, two boys were killed at the facility after inhaling the deadly gas, Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S).

This was the last straw for the community residents.  They wanted answers: What is in our air?  What are we being exposed to?  And why is the facility still operating after two employee deaths and multiple violations of their conditional use permit?!

The Committee for a Better Arvin (CBA) staged protests, marches, lobbied elected officials and the County finally agreed with the residents and revoked the facility’s operating permit.

Victory, right?  Nope, not in this small community of color, comprised mostly of working class, Spanish speaking population.

Read the rest of this entry »

Ray Kidd, a community leader in West Oakland, California talks about the air quality concerns in his community and how Global Community Monitor helped them out with the bucket brigade.

Usually when you read a news story about the environment, the great conflict takes center stage – jobs versus the environment, community members versus corporations, health versus toxics. That’s why I was shocked (and heartened) by the recent article in the East Bay Express, The Recycler Relocation Project.  Of course, the article includes statements from a wide range of individuals – from corporate executives and a city-wide developer to community members and environmental justice organizations.  But the thing that’s so interesting about this story is that everyone is pretty much agreeing with each other: The two metal recyclers, currently located in residential areas of West Oakland, would be better suited at the old Oakland Army Base next to similar heavy industry.
The community has carried the pollution burden too long, the recycling facilities want to expand their business and the developer sees great opportunity in it.  What’s groundbreaking here is that there is a clear and feasible win-win solution for residents and industry.  Additionally, the move will stimulate new economic development that will benefit the entire city.  The expansion of the recycling industry will create more jobs and the vacated land that the recyclers currently occupy could be ideal for small businesses serving the neighborhood.

The problem here is that this isn’t a new idea.  It has actually been discussed by City Council for years.  And, if you’ve been following along, West Oakland already agreed in Jean Quan’s Town Hall meeting back in early February.  Yet, progress continues to move very slowly in order to come to a decision on the issue.

Ultimately, it’s going to come down to us, the people with a broader vision, to tell the City Council our concerns and press for urgency.  We need to come together on the issue and unite with other Oakland residents to show the City Council how important this relocation is.  So sign the petition, get your friends and neighbors to do the same, and let’s create win-win story we all want to read about.

When we send our kids to school, we realize that they may face some uncomfortable or even dangerous situations. What if the older kids pick on them? Is this school known for violence or gangs?  Is there a drug problem at the school? How do I know my child is safe?
However, the more we know about the risks at schools the safer our kids can be.  We can educate ourselves and talk with our kids about what to do in a dangerous situation. We can make changes in our community by getting involved.

US EPA selected Paulsboro High School for monitoring potential impacts of toxic air pollutants.

But, what about the dangers that can go unnoticed, the risks that you can’t see?

Read the rest of this entry »

Anyone who’s been to multiple Town Hall meetings is well aware that some are nothing more than a dog and pony show, a public relations attempt to credit the politician with caring about community concerns. Well, for all you activists out there – don’t get too jaded yet.

Jean Quan, Mayor of Oakland held her first town hall meeting in West Oakland on Saturday, February 5, and over 200 community residents attended!  The meeting was even structured with break out groups, based on a variety of community topics ranging from public safety to the environment.  Each group was able to discuss and list out solutions in order of priority, on giant pieces of butcher paper which were then handed over to the Mayor herself.

In case participatory democracy in Oakland politics isn’t a highlight enough, the community actually identified tangible solutions in which everyone in attendance could agree on!  One solution even appeared as a top priority in two of the break out groups.  Sounds like Mayor Quan knows exactly what she needs to work on – Relocating the Recyclers. Read the rest of this entry »

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