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The final part of the first hand account of GCM’s ongoing training in Kenya by Shweta Narayan, Regional Trainer

Day 3 and 4 – First and Second Day at the Workshop – 28 and 29 July 2010:

About 20 representatives from four pollution impacted communities in Kenya came together to share their stories, learn from each other’s experience and also hone their skills in environmental monitoring to hold government and corporations accountable. In addition to the exchange of stories of struggles and victories, community members shared experiences on working within the existing political scenario for policy interventions. Later in the day, we went out on a toxic tour to see for ourselves the impacts of various industries on the Lake Naivasha.

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by Shweta Narayan

There was a lot of excitement at dinner last night as we spotted a hippo and funny as it may sound but some even imagined that we may be under a Hippo attack, but as I reflected on the rotten egg smell of the hippo’s breath, I was reminded of the more dangerous implications of that sulfurous stench.

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The second part of a first-hand account from Shweta Narayan, GCM’s Regional Trainer, on her return Bucket Brigade training trip to Kenya.

Day 2: 27 July 2010

Exploring Elsamere and getting to know about pollution problem in the region:

The workshop is to start tomorrow and all the participants and folks from RECONCILE (the Co-organisers of the training) are likely to arrive by evening today. This means that I have almost the entire day to explore Elsamere study center and also get to know more about the problems that the lake is facing due to the pollution in the region.

After breakfast, I decided to take a walk around the campus, went to the Joy and George Adomson Museum, walked on the shores of Lake Naivasha and was greeted by Columbus and Vivet species of monkeys native of this part of the country.

After lunch Susan and I sat down and discussed more in detail about the problems that the lake was facing due to pollution. I was told that the key threats to the lake came from flower farms, the workers’ settlement on the shores of lake and large scale appropriation of lake land for farming.

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Last week the GCM team traveled to Kanawha Valley, West Virginia; or as the locals call it, Chemical Valley. Located just outside of Charleston, Kanawha Valley is home to multiple chemical plants and the largest storage unit of deadly methyl isocyanate (MIC) in the US.  MIC is a dangerous chemical used in pesticides, notoriously known for the deaths of thousands of villagers in Bhopal, India in 1984. Formerly Union Carbide and now Bayer Crop Science, this sprawling chemical plant looms over the nearby community.

Residents of Kanawha Valley are no strangers to chemical spills and explosions.  Shortly after Bhopal, Union Carbide’s Institute facility had a leak of the same deadly chemical, MIC, sending 130 residents to the hospital. The leak in Institute sent waves of fear throughout the country, sparking serious debate about hazardous chemicals.

At that time, residents and activists organized an incredible movement exposing the lack of information regarding chemical storage, leaks and accidents. Their work provided the foundation for the Community Right to Know and Emergency Planning (EPCRA, more on that later) laws and the Toxic Release Inventory: tools that are widely used today by communities across the US in the fight for clean and healthy neighborhoods.

Even with the additional information and publicity, twenty years later in Institute, odors still foul the air and accidents are still happening, which is why Global Community Monitor came to introduce Bucket Brigades as an effective community-based method to monitor air quality and develop the evidence to fight for change. Read the rest of this entry »

Since we know it’s probably not possible for you to personally travel the world helping in the fight for clean air and healthy communities, we want to provide you with a first-hand account from Shweta Narayan, GCM’s Regional Trainer, of what it is like to be on the ground in Kenya training local communities in air monitoring: the sights, smells and sounds, the history of problems, the communities fighting for a better life.

Arriving in Kenya and Naivasha – Day 1 – 26 July 2010

by Shweta Narayan

This is not my first visit to Kenya or Naivasha. I was here last year for a Community Environmental Monitoring workshop for the pollution impacted communities in Kenya, organised by GCM and RECONCILE. I am back this year to be follow up on the last year’s workshop.

While last year the workshop was held in Kisumu, we also visited Naivasha, primarily for its popular Hell’s Gate National Park during our day off on our way out of the country. Despite spending only half a day here, we could not miss the acres of greenhouses that we saw on the way to the National Park. We were earlier informed by the participants at the workshop that Naivasha is the capital of flower farming in Kenya and primarily supplies flowers to Europe. Read the rest of this entry »

by Ruth Breech, Program Director

Returning from a recent trip to Michigan, I keep mulling over the shocking devastation that is Southwest Detroit. Years of environmental racism are taking their toll on this 10,000 family community.  In a five page, two day, news spread in the Detroit Free Press, 48217 was recently deemed the #1 most unhealthy ZIP code in the entire state of Michigan. Cancer and asthma plague this area that is surrounded by an expanding oil refinery, steel mills, a sewage waste incinerator, salt mine and littered with secondary chemical plants.

The pollution problems did not happen overnight. Regulators have been asleep at the wheel for over 20 years. Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment (formerly the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality) has cut their industrial and investigating staff from 50 to 10. The agency complains about budget cuts, but has not raised fees on industry since 2001.

Zoning changes and industrial expansions have put the neighbors and industry in a way too close for comfort distance – across the street from each other. Residential areas are thrust against an area zoned for the heaviest industry. There is a constant chemical stench in the air.

This is a true “dead zone” from which neighbors need to find a way out. Read the rest of this entry »

The following is the second in a series of pieces highlighting how our dependence on oil has pushed us to the age of ‘Extreme Energy’ where increasingly risky environmental and public health trade-offs are accepted as the status quo in the ravenous pursuit of energy.

by Andrew Racle, Program Intern

While deep-water offshore drilling is currently making headlines because of the BP disaster in the gulf, it is not the only form of “Extreme-Energy” that warrants our attention.  In fact, our dependence on oil has not only driven more extreme drilling in all possible forms, these forms are all equally dangerous and in need of regulation.

Of the various forms of Extreme Energy, only one, hydraulic fracturing or fracking, takes place on American soil. While fossil fuel has always been extractable from the natural fissures in certain rock formations, some of these deposits are too diffuse to be economically feasible using traditional drilling methods.  Increasing demand, however, has spurred the development of fracturing technology.  Pioneered in West Texas, fracking is being used to increase the productivity of drill sites in shale that previously were too expensive to drill.

Fracking is dependent on fracturing fluid, typically comprised of water-based concoctions riddled with assortments of chemicals.  The chemical makeup of the fluid varies from company to company.  The process of fracking involves forcing the tainted water straight down into the earth.  By pumping fracturing fluid deep into the rock formation fissures under the earth, the cracks are expanded and combined.  These expanded cracks allow one single well to tap into multiple diffuse deposits.  Though this new drilling technology allows relatively cheaper drilling for the oil companies, the dangers of such extreme practice brings costs to public health and the environment.

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