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Last week, Pacific Steel Casting in Berkeley, California finally signed a new contract with the worker’s union that will provide workers with the health benefits they need!  Not only that, workers will also receive a pay raise in their hourly wage and an increase in their pension. 

While this is an important victory for workers, it highlights how industrial polluters continually put community members at a lower priority when it comes to making investments in cleaner air and healthier communities. But that can change.

The background on the worker issue is simple. The labor union at PSC, Local 164B of the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics and Allied Workers International Union, went on strike last week protesting a burdensome health care benefit cut which could cost workers up to $300 a month.

Cutting employer paid health benefits is especially irresponsible when the heavy metals the workers are being exposed to every day can cause serious health effects from inhalation.
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Special Guest Blog from Suzie Canales, Citizens For Environmental Justice, GCM Board Member

On Friday March 11th 2011, Dr. Al Armendariz, EPA Regional Administrator for region 6, spoke the words that everyone knows to be true, but no one in authority (that I am aware of) has said publicly, he said that the fence-line communities of Dona Park and Hillcrest are located too close to the refineries.
A common sense statement but oh so hard to come by.

On this day, Dr. Armendariz was visiting Corpus Christi to meet with members of Citizens forEnvironmental Justice (CFEJ). This was his second visit to meet with CFEJ in two years. The meetinglasted over 6 hours. After the meeting Rick Spruill, a reporter from the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, metwith Dr. Armendariz and myself for an interview. Rick asked Al if he considered Hillcrest and Dona Parkto be fence-line communities. “Of course,” Al responded. Then Rick asked Al if he thought that these communities were too close to our local heavy industry.
Many things flashed through my mind in those few seconds before he responded.

It was the moment of truth – it had to be.

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A recent US EPA investigation in Detroit has resulted in more questions than answers.

Late last year, Detroit resident Adrienne Crawford was shocked by an intense chemical smell permeating through her home on Pleasant Street. Awoken in the middle of the night, choking on fumes, Crawford took an air sample in November 2010. Her sample revealed a toxic cocktail of 20 chemicals at 1,000 times above the safe limit! Chemicals detected included cancer causing benzene, toluene and hydrogen sulfide.
Marathon’s Detroit Refinery tank celebrates the Pistons photo:

Crawford’s heartfelt appeal on TV news was seen by Marathon Oil. Marathon employees came out to Crawford’s home in early January to investigate the situation. Marathon brought an entourage with industrial air monitors and plumbers. Marathon inspectors found no chemicals in the air.

Days later, US EPA launched an investigation prompted by Crawford’s toxic air sample. The US EPA discovered that Marathon Oil shares a sewer line with the City of Detroit (read: Detroit residents) resulting in Marathon’s industrial waste water mingling with municipal waste. Marathon’s waste water can be filled with chemicals like benzene and hydrogen sulfide, chemicals both associated with petroleum production.

US EPA developed a flyer alerting residents of the possible chemical exposure that could be the result of broken sewer traps in basements. US EPA is also testing the air in 61 homes north and south of Pleasant Street along the sewer line as well as the outside air. It is unclear who is actually taking the samples-the Agency or Marathon Oil consultants.

Marathon, the large industrial polluter that registers thousands of pounds of these toxic chemicals, is responsible for fixing the broken sewer traps and for and possibly for air monitoring.  After digging up Crawford’s basement and providing a seal, Marathon has deemed her home “safe”.

Marathon even provided chemically impacted  residents with an informational brochure about indoor chemical exposures. This flyer details information about chemical exposures from cosmetic products, carpets and lawn mowers.

A few years ago, Saturday Night Live started a skit called “Really?!? With Seth and Amy”. The two cast members would call out the ridiculousness in recent news head lines. Amy & Seth photo:
We would like to end this blog entry with a nod to this Saturday Night Live skit.

Really, Marathon, you sent out a flyer telling people that the chemical exposure is coming from a lawn mower? Really? How many lawn mowers would it take to compare to the amount of gasoline that is being stored and produced at your oil refinery?

Really, Marathon, you don’t have enough money to have your own sewer line to the waste water treatment plant? Really? Because facilities your size usually have their own waster water treatment plant on site and do not share with their residential neighbors.

Really, US EPA, you are letting Marathon, the polluter, do the air monitoring and fix sewer traps? Did you ever think of maybe consulting with a third party that the residents trust? You are allowing a woman to reside in a home that has shown serious benzene exposure because Marathon, the polluter, said it was ok. Really?!?

The residents of Detroit deserve better. Not only are they breathing bad air, they are also getting a lot of hot air from the agencies that are supposed to be protecting them.

Being downwind of Central Valley California’s notoriously dirty air is enough cause for concern, but when you’ve got 70,000 vehicles including 18,000 trucks passing through on the freeway every day, it’s enough 

Hold your breath....

to make you choke!  That’s why a determined community group, the Tri-County Watchdogs, has begun testing the air themselves – to find out what they are breathing and to do something about it.

The Watchdogs secured a grant from the Rose Foundation to work with GCM to monitor the particulate pollution and diesel soot that blows into their communities, schools and homes.
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Hilton Kelley, a tireless environmental educator, advocate for human-rights justice and role model has dedicated a great part of his activism to tackling the oil giants such as Shell and its defenders at Port Arthur, Texas, his home town and current residence.

Port Arthur, Texas has been the site of frequent Civil Rights and Environmental Justice complaints regarding refinery and chemical plant pollution and regulatory failures by the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Mr. Hilton could not stand by and see the destruction that refineries were bringing to the health and livelihoods of his local community.

Global Community Monitor (GCM) is very proud that Hilton Kelley’s work has gone hand-in-hand with that of our organization.

In 2000, Hilton attended training on bucket brigade air monitoring given by Denny Larson, Executive Director of Global Community Monitor. Here he learned that he did not have to rely on the state of Texas, or refinery air monitors that kept showing that the air in his foul smelling community was “clean”.

Three years later, with GCM’s assistance with training, funding and on-going support, Hilton received non-profit status for his own organization, Community In Power and Development Association (CIDA). As the founder of CIDA, Mr. Kelley also currently serves as Secretary and Director of GCM.

In 2006, CIDA and GCM blocked Motiva’s (Shell subsidiary) permit from the state of Texas to expand their existing Port Arthur refinery. This would have more than doubled its current production, making it the largest refinery in the nation. CIDA and GCM won major pollution reductions, a multi-million dollar community development foundation, and community safety measures. GCM has made this model available and has worked with communities near dozens of similar refinery expansions.

Because of his commitment and perseverance, Hilton has been presented with several awards such as the Texas Sierra Club’s Environmental Justice Award in 2002, Woodmen of The World Life Insurance Society “Conservation Award” in 2005, “Houston Hero” Award by Citizen League for Environmental Action Now (CLEAN) in 2006, Damu Smith Environmental Achievement Award in 2008, the Houston-Galveston Environmental Research and Outreach (HERO) Award in 2009, among others.

In 2008 the City of Port Arthur declared July 1 “Hilton Kelley Day” in honor of his outstanding environmental efforts.

Hilton has taken his local fight of Port Arthur to other communities around the United States, and around the world.  Hilton Kelley has moved his local struggle beyond protest, toward informed advocacy and collaborative engagement in a regional dialogue on environmental health. He is regularly invited as a keynote speaker and guest speaker at national and international conferences which main goals are to educate politicians, policymakers and the public in general on the social and environmental impacts of the oil industry to the quality of life of local communities.

How would you fight back?

California’s San Joaquin Valley suffers from some of the worst air pollution in the US, second only after Los Angeles in terms of short- and long-term particle pollution. This pollution drifts up a narrow canyon connecting the valley floor to pristine mountain paradise communities, such as Frazier Park.

To add to this pollution burden, the middle school is located adjacent to I-5, the main transportation corridor between Northern and Southern California. It has been documented that 18,000 trucks pass this middle school every day.

Watch the video to see how Frazier Park community members are fighting for clean air.

In light of the awards season, the Air Hugger would like to commemorate this week with a special award, the Fracky for outstanding achievement in creating unsafe communities in the category of Natural Gas production.

And the nominees are…
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