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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.

How many of us have had to work with someone that just didn’t do their job?

In the professional world, we face this all of the time; and considering the lackluster economy, there’s probably someone ELSE out there that is more than willing to do the work.

Especially, when you’re paying them!

Well, when we’re talking about governmental agencies, it can be more complex because you can’t just fire a governmental agency.

I was at a community meeting a few weeks ago, where the Air District came out to discuss the local air quality amid deep community concerns over the presence of manganese in recent air samples.  

The Air District dismissed the health concerns and telling the community that they have nothing to worry about since the manganese levels were below one health based standard, although above various other health based standards.

When a community member asked the air district staff if he would raise his children in the community based on the air quality.  The answer was a resounding NO.  

Needless to say after that, the meeting didn’t go so well.

After the (rightfully so) angry parents regained composure, one woman from the community stood to ask another question.

Image from SierraClub.org

“You’re the air district, you care about clean air, right?  So do we, but why do we have to fight you for our right to breathe clean air?”

Unfortunately, this can be the harsh reality when dealing with air pollution in Environmental Justice communities.  Many residents are upset at the company because of a lack of communication, no emergency evacuation plan, lies about expansion plans, accidents, etc.  Residents then turn to the regional air district for support. It seems like a natural ally in the fight for clean air.  But the reality is that the air district is, most likely, not going to be an ounce of help.

This is extremely disempowering, especially since the Air District’s mandate is ensure our air is clean.  That’s their job and that’s why we pay them! 

Imagine if we were talking about a landscaper, a contractor or even a babysitter!  If you came home one day to find your child bleeding, and the babysitter just said, “Oh, don’t worry about it,” would you invite the babysitter back?

Too bad we can’t do that with air districts and other governmental agencies.

We’ve seen this with other air districts and environmental agencies before.  It’s not uncommon for them to discredit community based air monitoring results, while refusing to do their own air monitoring.  If you want public information from the SJVAPCD about an facility’s emissions, good luck, and if you’re extremely persistent with the follow-up, you might even get a call from someone working at the agency, just to make sure you have the odor complaint line.

The agency folks assure you that they’re investigating your complaints and looking into your sample data, then months later- they claim that you never submitted your complaint or sent along your air monitoring data.  “The investigation is closed…”

All of that will leave you sitting there, rereading the form email from the air district, knowing that the sample results you sent them are long lost somewhere at the air district along with your public info requests, most likely next to the phone in which you’ve left all of those odor complaint messages.

The problem here is that air districts and other environmental agencies often do not act as though they have the communities’ best interest in mind.  The community meetings, public info requests and ‘on-going investigations’ act more like a smokescreen to make it look like they are doing their jobs.  

The reality is, is that if they really did their jobs…………….

They’d have a lot more work to do!  If the Air District acknowledged elevated levels of toxic substances in our air, they would have to do more comprehensive air monitoring.  They’d need to work with residents to identify local hot spots and sensitive locations like schools and daycares.  They’s need stricter regulations and stronger enforcement policies for polluters.  BUT, no one wants to open that can of worms!  

On  the surface, no one wants to create more work for themselves and no one wants to illuminate a problem that requires money (that we don’t have!) to fix.  Although there are also a series of deeper issues that can contribute to the agencies not doing an adequate job of protecting our safety.  

We’ve seen a number of professionals move from governmental jobs to industry jobs and vise versa.  We can’t help but wonder where their allegiances lie.  On top of that we’ve got a lot of corporate donations and heavy lobbying on government by the very industries that are polluting our communities.    

So, almost as if on cue, we’ll hear once again “The air’s fine.  Keep calm and carry on.”

Now where do we go from here?  How can we ensure that our air is safe for us and our children to breathe?  Will it require long term reform of our governmental agencies or ongoing grassroots pressure from the communities living on the fenceline of heavy industry?  

Either way, exposing this charade is a good place to start!

Is anyone paying attention here?!

Chevron’s Richmond, CA refinery has had two major accidents, sending thousands to local hospitals, in the past five years!

Currently, they are pushing plans through the City of Richmond’s permitting process to repair the crude unit that caused the fire on August 6, 2012, but it doesn’t seem that Chevron has any intention of following a City Council Resolution to use the highest standards and best technology in the repair.

And they’re planning to reopen this unit early next year?!

Turns out, Chevron claims that they are not ‘planning’ to increase production, therefore can forgo requirements to install the newest clean air technologies.  But- this poses a serious question.  Why wouldn’t a company want to install the best clean air technology?  Do they really not care about the health and safety of Richmond residents?

The Mayor of Richmond, Gayle McLaughlin, shares similar concerns over not ‘seeing the best available technology’.  She’s continuing to hold Chevron accountable by bringing about a resolution to City Council ensuring transparency from Chevron.

Yet, Chevron continues to spin the story, blaming the community residents for the delay in repairs at the Richmond Refinery.  Something many community residents have seen many times before.

Chevron has been polluting the City of Richmond, and surrounding areas, for decades.  They’ve shown time and time again that they do not properly maintain their facility and they consistently lie to the residents, City Council and the BAAQMD.  For Chevron to defy the Richmond City Council is just Chevron doing business as usual.

So what happens when the nearby refinery has an accident?

The GCM team springs into action!

On August 6, 2012 an explosion happened at the Chevron Refinery in Richmond, CA that led to a fire at the facility.  This industrial accident sent a huge plume of smoke into the sky and left heavy soot fallout on residents’ homes, yards and gardens.  Neither Chevron nor the Bay Area Air District had any monitoring data on what neighbors could have been exposed to, the GCM team connected with families that had noticed heavy soot on their property just after the fire.

We collected 10 wipe samples and analysed them for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH’s) and found some alarming results.

But here’s a little insight into first-hand experiences of collecting air samples with community members.

First, we reached out to local residents through online sources, media outlets and email list serves.  In response, we were contacted by a slew of folks expressing their concerns.  Then Senior Program Manager Jessica Hendricks prioritized locations for sampling and hit the pavement.  Here’s her story:

After meandering through busy work schedules and the windy roads of the Richmond Hills, I knock on the door of the first house.  A woman answers, carrying a baby and kicking children’s toys out of the front hallway.  She’s extremely concerned for her young children’s health and worried about how to clean up the oily soot fallout.

We discussed ways to limit exposure to potentially harmful chemicals.  But, the truth is, we don’t have the answers and that’s part of the problem.  No air monitoring had been done at the time of the accident, so we just don’t know.  After connecting with some more families, I found that many folks in the greater Richmond area shared her same concerns.  “What is it? Is it harmful to my family’s health?”  The reality is that these questions need very real answers, from the agencies responsible for protecting our health and the companies responsible for maintaining the safety of their refineries.  Neighbors have the right to know, and deserve comprehensive air monitoring data.

She gestures to the back deck, where she’s noticed the most of the sooty fallout, which is also where she keeps bees for honey.  So I step outside, try to ignore the swarm of honey bees and pull out the sampling kit.  As the bees start landing on me, she yells from behind the patio door- “You’re not allergic to bees, are you?”  Luckily I’m not, and I quickly wiped up the oily soot and placed it back in the tube to be sent to the lab.

Off to the next house, which I need to drive to Hayward for…

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Photo: Chevron-weagree.com

Rage poured out of residents’ pores and mouths on Tuesday night  in Richmond.

Almost 500 people packed the town’s Civic Center for the Chevron hosted town hall meeting in response to the huge fire at the refinery on Monday night.

The evening,coincided with National Night Out-a major event in Richmond, began with a rally outside organized by Asian Pacific Environmental Network. Richmond’s Green Mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, spoke at this rally, reminding all that economic and environmental justice were key issues for Richmond.

The Cast of Characters
The town hall meeting inside included information about shelter in place and a small postcard was passed out with key numbers-like the claims hotline, odor lines and police.

The meeting was moderated by Joan Davis, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Richmond Community Foundation, an organization that is rumored to receive a significant amount of funding from Chevron. Her presence was unusual and condescending. She began by having each panel member give a short presentation on their role in the fire and the emergency response after, the panel included:

Nigel Hearne, Chevron Richmond refinery General Manager

Randy Sawyer, Director Hazardous Materials Division, Contra Costa Health Services

Bill Lindsay, Richmond City Manager (why wasn’t the Mayor invited on the panel?)

Dr. Wendel Brunner, Contra Costa Public Health Director

Katherine Hern, Contra Costa County Senior Emergency Planning Coordinator

Jeff McKay, Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer, Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Hearne expressed a sincere apology and accepted full responsibility for the fire at the refinery. However, he was unwilling to provide details about the substances burned in unit 4, he described it as a “diesel like” substance.

Hearne was unwilling to provide information about his annual salary. Hearne is a strategic leader for Chevron, formerly the operations manager at their beloved and touted El Segundo Refinery in Southern California.

Randy Sawyer was booed almost as much as Hearne. He provided no tangible information about what materials may have been in the air or what people were being exposed to. Residents felt the emergency response was inadequate-with a delayed siren and some that are registered did not receive calls about the impending danger.

Dr. Wendel Brunner was mildly feisty. He was the first person to discuss health effects from the smoke’s particulate matter. Brunner informed the crowd that as of 5 pm Tuesday, 949 people had reported acute (asthma attacks, burning eyes, burning nose and throat) health symptoms at the two area emergency rooms.
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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.

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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.

Picture this: A mom is taking her infant daughter for a walk in the stroller in her neighborhood when a chemical release fills the air with noxious foul smells that sicken them both.  Nearby other families have their homes invaded by the same toxic stench, – What can they do?  Luckily for them, they can call environmental inspectors, part of an elite team of trained enviro-cops are available 24/7/365 via an 800 number to swoop in and catch the toxic criminal who has dumped in their neighborhood.

The Air Quality Inspectors jump in their official vehicles and race to the scene of the suspected environmental offence to protect the innocent folks just trying to take the baby for a stroll and live peacefully in their homes. Sounds almost too good to be true, doesn’t it?

Well, it is because in a bizarre twist of fate, the toxic cops arrive armed with only 1 piece of ‘built-in’ equipment with which they will carry out their investigation to gather hard evidence so that the agencies legal team can prosecute the violator: their noses.

Did they rush off so quickly, they forgot to pack their CSI equipment in the trunk?

Nope!  It’s the official policy of the government agency to have them just packin their noses!  That’s it?  In this day of high tech bomb and chemical sniffers, special puffers that blow air up our pants at the airport and even highly trained dogs that can ID cocaine or fruit crossing our borders, these Air Police just bring their noses to gather legal evidence to prosecute lawbreakers?

It’s a joke, right?  Yes it is, but it is also reality.  And no one that gets dumped on by chemical polluters is laughing.  The laugh track is completely filled already by the belly busting guffaws of refineries, chemical plants, steel mills and their high priced lawyers and consultants.

Surely there is reasonable explanation for this situation, you say.  It must be happening in oil country or some cancer alley where polluters reign and green policies have long been plowed under by industry lobbyists and their political hacks?  Nope, wrong again!

It’s happening in the greenest state in the nation and the self proclaimed capitol of enviro-crazies: the San Francisco Bay Area, including right in Berkeley California, home to the most lefty liberal wild eyed green policies in the Nation!
Huh?  That’s right, why even the almost pinko commie Mayor sits on the Board of the Agency of which we speak.  What agency funded by my tax dollars is that you ask?  The Bay Area Air Quality Management District or BAAQMD headquartered right in another enviro loony town known as San Francisco!!!

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