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Now that the dust has settled, we all got some much needed rest and the final close out paperwork is just about finalized, here are the top ten highlights from the Community Based Science for Action Conference.
- New Orleans!
What better city to host the Community Based Science for Action Conference! GCM has an exciting project nearby in Plaquemines Parish and co-hosts Public Lab and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade both have offices there. With great food, music and culture; it was never a dull moment.
2. The Toxic Tour of Myrtle Grove and Woodpark
Going all of the way to New Orleans without visiting our project partners in Plaquemines Parish would have been a huge disservice to all in attendance. These communities are living on the fenceline of a large coal export terminal and have been plagued with fine coal dust covering their homes, decks and backyards. Many of the residents all shared a similar story of moving out to the Louisiana bayou for a peaceful retirement. Now they’re golden years are filled with relentless Environmental Justice activism. Hearing their stories being shared with fellow activists, community organizers and even some folks from the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting was no less than inspiring.
3. Keynote Speakers, Hilton Kelley and Gen. Honore
Two Environmental Justice leaders lending inspirational stories of their own challenges and success, what a better way to kick off each day of the Conference!
4. All of the great new monitoring tools & techniques!
What happens when you bring a bunch of community scientist together? Well, for starters, they bring all of their monitoring tools to demo! We had Buckets, Mini Vols, FLIR cameras, Kites and a plethora of gadgets from the Public Lab community. This provided an amazing opportunity to learn about the pros and cons of each as well as learn which ones would work best in each individual community. Community monitoring tools have come a long way and there’s still room for improvement. We’re doing our best to make sure all of the presentations are available online, so if you missed it, check here to see if we’ve got it.
5. Wendy Colonna
We’re building a movement here and all strong social movements need music. Wendy kept us going!
6. The Hosts and Volunteers!
With the community based monitoring expertise of Global Community Monitor, the local knowledge of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the resourcefulness of Public Lab the Community Based Science for Action Conference was no less than amazing. This was by far a powerhouse trio and without the support from all three organizations, the Conference just wouldn’t have been the same. Similarly, without the help from our volunteers, we’d probably still be trying to set up the place. Three cheers for the volunteers who kept that show running!
7. The Networking Opportunities
Where can a resident from San Antonio, Texas get more information about a community led fight against a diesel emitting railyard from the community member leading one in Kansas City? Well, the Community Based Science for Action Conference helped to connect those folks. This conference provided an invaluable opportunity for residents living on the fenceline of heavy industrial pollution to connect with one another and share their own experiences. What can a fact sheet do for my community? Do you know anyone at EPA Region 2? Can you help me organize my community? How the heck can I use social media for fundraising? All of these conversations were facilitated by the Community Based Science for Action Conference and that’s pretty rad!
8. The Venue and Accommodations
The Old U.S. Mint was perfectly located in New Orleans’ French Quarter, and who doesn’t need a beignets break in between sessions? The layout worked well, the auditorium was perfect for large sessions and there was plenty of room for one on one conversations. Similarly, the Hyatt was a great place to recharge at the end of the day. The plush pillows, multiple restaurants and gathering places, AND that breakfast buffet was delicious!!
9. Happy Hour at the Maison
Open bar, tasty New Orleans appetizers and live music? Yes, please!
10. The Attendees!
Even the best of the best planned conferences mean nothing without a wide range of attendees. The scholarship assistance ensured that no one was turned away for lack of funds, which is crucial in getting community leaders there. This movement is going to take people power and by the looks of it, we’ve got a pretty phenomenal bunch. If it weren’t for the attendees, us hosts would have gotten pretty lonely. So, thanks for coming out, thanks for your support and thanks for sharing your expertise!
Don’t miss this special piece from our allies over at Earthjustice! – GCM
Last month, while sitting around the conference tables of Washington, D.C.’s biggest movers and shakers, I saw looks of shock come across the faces of those listening to local community activists explain why oil and gas drilling makes it dangerous to breathe.
They would know. After all, these concerned community members are the ones who took air quality data that appeared in a recently-released report and the first peer-reviewed study of hazardous air pollutants near oil and gas development sites across the U.S.
Taught by experts from the Global Community Monitor, the activists went out into their communities and took air samples in areas where they observed certain symptoms, such as headaches, dizziness or breathing problems. In total, community members from six states—Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Wyoming—collected 76 samples that were then analyzed by scientists.
The findings were worse than many community representatives could have imagined. They found carcinogens such as formaldehyde and benzene, some in concentrations above EPA’s most hazardous cancer risk level. Hydrogen sulfide, a nerve and organ toxin, was also found in concentrations that often exceeded health and safety standards. In Wyoming, one sample revealed that hydrogen sulfide concentrations were 660 times higher than the level the EPA classifies as immediately dangerous to human life. In addition, almost 40 percent of the samples collected contained volatile compounds in concentrations above federal standards for cancer level risk.
When I met the community members the night before their busy day of meetings in D.C., I saw a group of concerned citizens who didn’t choose this line of work—it chose them.
Frank Finan of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania, who traveled to D.C. with his daughter, Kelly, was set to retire when he began to see the impacts of natural gas development near his home. Instead of retiring, he spent much of his savings to buy a specialized camera that allowed him to detect gases and other emissions that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Emily Lane, one of the co-leaders of the local group Arkansasfracking.org, became involved because she suspected that the increased seismic activity occurring in her home state of Arkansas was due to the rise in hydraulic fracturing in the area. After learning more about gas development and witnessing her neighbors experience hair loss, memory loss, nosebleeds and fainting, she became concerned with the effect of this extractive process on air quality.
Deb Thomas is a resident of rural Wyoming, the executive director of Shale Test, and co-author of the report. She has dedicated her life to addressing the negative effects of oil and gas development, first on water quality and now air. She believes that this report is vital because it gives people information that they can take to their health providers. Prior to this study, these communities had no idea what they were being exposed to and how it could adversely affect their health and well-being.
Frank, Emily and Deb, along with representatives from the groups that worked on the report, met with numerous NGO partners and decision makers to inform them about the impacts that communities are facing from oil and gas development. Each of the individuals involved in this study faced much adversity in getting this information out to the general public, including being ostracized by their own communities and ignored by local officials. However, in D.C., they had a welcome audience. Throughout the day, community members were thanked for their dedication and sacrifice, with some even hailing them as heroes advocating for clean air and a healthy environment for their families, neighbors and fellow citizens.
“Drilling works perfectly on paper, but things don’t go right in real life,” says Frank.
This report allows communities the access to information regarding the air they breathe. The time is ripe for more meaningful change in the regulations for oil and gas development.
This study was organized by Coming Clean and Global Community Monitor. Coming Clean is a national environmental health and justice network of more than 200 organizations working together to reduce harmful exposure to toxic chemicals. Global Community Monitor works worldwide to empower communities at risk with the technology and expertise to document toxic exposures.
For more information on the report, read the guest blog post from Caroline Cox, research director at the Center for Environmental Health: Putting a Number on Dirty Energy Pollution.