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By Tom Griffith, Martinez Environmental Group

The Community-Based Science for Action Conference begins this coming weekend! Co-hosted by Global Community Monitor, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, and Public Lab, it will be an opportunity for learning, sharing and networking with the goal of giving citizen scientists the tools to win cleaner communities.

Hilton with prize

Hilton Kelley


General Russel Honoré

The keynote speakers will be: Goldman Prize winner Hilton Kelley, and General Russel Honoré, commander of the Joint Task Force Katrina. In addition to a packed schedule of sessions, there will be a toxic tour on Saturday and a jazz dinner on Sunday.

Photo by

Jazz in NOLA Photo by

On Saturday, November 15, a Toxic Tour centered on Coal Dust Testing in Plaquemines Parish, LA, will be led by Plaquemines Parish Community Monitors, Louisiana Sierra Club, and Gulf Restoration Network. The tour will include three communities in Plaquemines Parish:

  • Ironton– Stop will include meeting with community leaders for local history. Discussion of the proposed coal export facility, RAM, directly adjacent to Ironton. View of the proposed Wetlands restoration project. Hear results of the current air monitoring project
  • Myrtle Grove– Meet with community leaders & discuss issues about nearby coal export UNITED BULK terminal & lawsuit.
  • Woodpark– Visit adjacent community of Woodpark, 250 feet from coal export operation.

Then it’s Saturday night in the Big Easy! Let the good times roll!

The Old US Mint, NOLA Photo by Louisiana Travel on

The Old US Mint, NOLA Photo by Louisiana Travel on

The conference proper begins on Sunday, November 16 at the historic Old U.S. Mint in New Orleans. Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor and Anne Rolfes from the Louisiana Bucket Brigade will open the event. Sunday’s keynote speaker will be Goldman environmental Prize winner Hilton Kelley.

The day will include a Community Success Stories panel with:

  • Jackie James-Creedon, Citizen Science & Community Resources: Tonawanda Coke Campaign,
  • Luis Olmedo, Comite Civico del Valle: IVAN Online,
  • Jesse Marquez, Coalition for a Safe Environment: LA & Long Beach Ports, and
  • Laura Cortez & Maria Reyes, Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma: LA & Long Beach Ports.

The panel will be followed by the day’s break out sessions. After the day’s work, participants can enjoy a leisurely walk to a hosted dinner in the French Quarter!

Photo by

The French Quarter, NOLA Photo by

On Monday, November 17, the conference continues with a sampling tools demonstration, and welcome by Public Lab’s Shannon Dosemagen. Monday’s keynote speaker will be General Russel L. Honoré. His remarks will be followed by Monday’s break out sessions.

The timely and useful session themes for Sunday and Monday include:

  • Community Science: Scientific research conducted by everyday people as part of a collective effort to improve environmental conditions in the area.
  • Extreme Energy:Increasingly risky environmental and public health trade-offs are accepted as the status quo in the ravenous pursuit of energy.
  • Partnerships: Successful collaborations amongst Community Based Organizations, Community Members, Non-profit Organizations, Academic Institutions, Foundations and/or Government Agencies.
  • Advances in Technology: Developing innovative monitoring tools.
  • Sharing: Communicating data and results to and with the public to educate and activate.


These break out sessions will be hosted by an impressive group of environmental and health activists:
Calvin Tillman, Shale Test; Ryan Grode, Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project; Becki Chall, Public   Lab; Erica Gulseth, EarthJustice; Laura Cortez and Maria Reyes, Long Beach Alliance for Children with Asthma;         David Fukuzawa, Kresge Foundation; Jesse Marquez, Coalition for A Safe Environment; Denny Larson, Ruth Breech, and Jessica Hendricks, Global Community Monitor; Jackie James-Creedon, Citizen Science & Community Resources; Joe Gardella, University at Buffalo (via WEB); Evan Marie Alison, Louisiana Bucket Brigade; Wilma Subra, Subra Company/Louisiana Environmental Action Network; Gwen Ottinger, Drexel University; Jill Kriesky; Scott Eustis, Gulf Restoration Network; Stephen Lester, Center for Health, Environment & Justice; Jeff Warren, Public Lab; Hilton Kelley, CIDA; Will Rostov, EarthJustice.

Check out the full schedule. Lots of exciting sessions and inspirational speakers. Don’t miss it!


November 6th, 2014

Editors Note: This is a guest post by Gwen Ottinger, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Center for Science, Technology, and Society at Drexel University.  She has done extensive research on community-based air monitoring and community-industry relations around oil refineries.  She is author of Refining Expertise: How Responsible Engineers Subvert Environmental Justice Challenges (NYU Press 2013).
[This post originally appeared on the SciStarter Blog and is reproduced with permission.]


Air Sampling in Progress (Courtesy: Global Community Monitor)

A study released last week in the journal Environmental Health breaks new ground in our understanding of the environmental effects of fracking—and shows the power that citizen science can have in advancing scientific research and promoting political action.

Unconventional oil and gas (UOG) production, including hydraulic fracturing (fracking), can affect water and air quality.  Researchers, including citizen scientists, have studied its impacts on water extensively.  But we don’t know a lot about how air quality is affected, especially in nearby residential areas, according to the study, “Air concentrations of volatile compounds near oil and gas production.” Part of the problem is where most academic researchers take samples.  Too often, they choose monitoring locations based on the requirements of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards, which look for regional, not local, effects of pollution.  When looking at air quality around UOG production operations, they may select sites opportunistically, based on where they can gain access or where they can find electricity for their monitoring equipment. This approach, however, may not produce data that is representative of the actual impact of fracking on air quality.

The recently released study pioneers a new approach to choosing sites for air quality monitoring: it mobilizes citizens to identify the areas where sampling was most likely to show the continuous impact of fracking emissions. Citizens chose places in their communities where they noticed a high degree of industrial activity, visible emissions, or health symptoms that could be caused by breathing toxic chemicals.  They took samples themselves, following rigorous protocols developed by non-profit groups working in conjunction with regulatory agencies and academic researchers.

The result – we now have a lot more evidence to show that UOG production can have a big impact on local air quality.  And, as a result of citizens’ involvement in selecting sampling sites, scientists and regulators now have a better idea of where to look to start studying those impacts systematically.

The study demonstrates once again the power of citizen science to improve scientific research. But it also shows the political power of citizen science.  In a companion report released by the non-profit Coming Clean, the study’s citizen-authors use their finding that air quality is significantly affected by UOG to argue that governments need to be cautious when issuing permits, and to call for more extensive monitoring that includes citizen scientists.

Next week, several of the study’s authors—and many other citizen scientists—will convene in New Orleans to cultivate the scientific and political power of citizen science.  At the Community-based Science for Action Conference, November 15-17, citizens dedicated to protecting their community’s environment and health will have the chance to try out new technologies for environmental monitoring, share best practices for successful collaboration between scientists and citizens, and learn about the legal and political issues where their science can make a difference.

Want to get involved?  Registration is still open at the conference’s website. Can’t attend but want to support your fellow citizen scientists? Consider making a donation to help send someone else to New Orleans.

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