9 pm, Friday: I gear up with a weekend’s worth of necessities and two five-gallon buckets that are going to be transformed into community air monitors.  This weekend is my first solo Bucket Brigade training and I’m headed on the red-eye out of San Francisco to North Providence, Rhode Island to meet the members of ENUFF, a community group fighting for clean air.

6 am, Saturday: Eight hours later, I arrive in Rhode Island, buckets in hand, ready to empower yet another community with the Bucket Brigade.  I am met at the airport by Taryn Hallweaver, community organizer for the Toxics Action Center in Boston.  We have been working together for the past few weeks in organizing a Bucket Brigade training in North Providence.

The residents of North Providence, RI live right next to an asphalt plant.  Residents believe that the rates of asthma in children are much higher than nearby towns and the residents have been plagued with chemical odors from the industrial processes at the asphalt plant.  They wanted to know, ‘what are we breathing?’

Yet, this trip was special, a little more unique than the others.  We  had been collaborating with a team from Public Laboratories,  including a recent PhD graduate from MIT, on aerial mapping   through a low-cost method of floating a helium balloon over the site, with an attached camera that’s set to take continuous pictures from above.

The coolest thing about this, is that for the first time, community residents can finally see what’s going on behind the gate at the facility.  They get a picture of just how close the heavy machinery is to their recreation fields and day care facilities.

11 am, Saturday: With community members and the team from Public Laboratories, we gather around for a potluck and balloon inflating.  After  navigating the balloon around tree  limbs and power lines, we had our  map.

Sunday morning: The Bucket Brigade training begins.  Eight community residents, the community organizer, and a handful of curious observers gathered in an art studio to learn the basics of air pollution and community monitoring.  We added to the balloon maps from the day before, with community drawn neighborhood maps of toxic hot spots (where the pollution and odors are the worst).

We discussed wind direction, seasonal changes and the effects of temperature to determine the best place to take a sample.  Now we’re ready to build some Buckets!
 Sunday afternoon: Just a few hours  later, everyone in the room had  contributed to building two Buckets,  ready to take air samples.  The residents all practiced capturing the  ambient air in the special sample bag we ordered from the lab.

We went over some important Quality Control practices and filled  out the sample Chain of Custody form needed to ship the samples to  the lab and built out a solid sampling plan.  

Now, the residents are trained environmental samplers and the Bucket Brigade has been launched!

Sunday evening: I am back on the plane returning to the GCM headquarters, excited about the new balloon mapping project and encouraged that a new Bucket Brigade has found a home in Rhode Island.

 Stay tuned, sample results are on their way.