You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Environmental Justice’ category.

GCM Announces New Testing Results of Lumber Liquidators Chinese‐made Laminates

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: March 2, 2015

CONTACT: Denny Larson, 415‐845‐4705; Michael Lozeau, 510‐836‐4200CONSUMERS CONTACT: Linda Dardarian, 800‐538‐1467

GCM Announces New Testing Results of Lumber Liquidators Chinese‐made Laminates

All Chinese‐made Laminates Purchased for Testing Failed CARB Standards

Why These Tests Matter

As noted in the 60 Minutes report, which aired on March 1, 2015, probably tens of thousands of households in California and probably hundreds of thousands of households nationwide are being exposed to formaldehyde emissions from Lumber Liquidators Chinese‐made laminate flooring(i).

According to its website, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) “evaluated formaldehyde exposure in California and found that one of the major sources of exposure is from inhalation of formaldehyde emitted from composite wood products containing urea‐formaldehyde resins. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reclassified formaldehyde from “probably carcinogenic to humans” to “carcinogenic to humans” in 2004, based on the increased risk of nasopharyngeal cancer. Formaldehyde was also designated as a toxic air contaminant (TAC) in California in 1992 with no safe level of exposure. State law requires ARB to take action to reduce human exposure to all TACs.” (emphasis added).(ii)

The Standards

CARB’s emissions standards regulate the formaldehyde emissions from “composite wood products” such as particleboard, plywood, and medium density fiberboard (MDF). These composite wood products are used in finished goods such as laminate flooring, furniture, or shelving. The underlying particleboard, plywood, or MDF is sometimes referred to as the “core” of the finished good.

CARB’s emission standards make it unlawful to sell products, including laminate wood flooring, in California that contain composite wood cores that exceed certain formaldehyde levels set by CARB.

The Test Method & Results

The tests analyzed Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring purchased in California both in stores and online – the same flooring that consumers would purchase. Lumber Liquidators states that this laminate flooring complies with the CARB Phase 2 Formaldehyde standard. Three different laboratories conducted extensive testing on this flooring – these labs performed over 80 “deconstruction tests” (of which 76 were on Chinese‐made laminates) using the CARB‐approved finished goods methodology and over 200 other formaldehyde tests.

Every single U.S.‐made Lumber Liquidators laminate product purchased for testing passed the CARB standard. Every single Chinese‐made Lumber Liquidators laminate product purchased for testing failed the CARB standard – and by a large average margin. The average formaldehyde emissions of the Chinese‐made products tested was over 6x the CARB legal limit for the MDF core.

LLAvgFormEmissions

 

All Three Laboratories Used the CARB‐Approved Test Method

Each of the testing laboratories used the finished goods sample preparation method and test method developed by CARB and published on CARB’s website. This is the official CARB test method. CARB has only one published test method for testing for formaldehyde in finished products containing composite wood cores, and that is the test method the independent laboratories used.

The purpose of the deconstruction is to expose the composite wood core so that its emissions can be compared against CARB’s numeric limit. CARB has published a “Standard Operating Procedure” for finished goods testingiii. According to this SOP, this procedure “is to be used to prepare a finished good for laboratory testing to determine if the finished good complies with” CARB standards.(iv) Senior CARB personnel have confirmed that the SOP is the official CARB methodology for analyzing formaldehyde emissions from finished goods.

Lumber Liquidators has criticized the CARB test method, but that industry argument has long since been rejected by CARB. CARB’s official legislative history from 2007 states:

Yes it is correct that finished products must be deconstructed to test for compliance. But, we disagree that there is great uncertainty in the enforcement program. Deconstructive testing is needed for finished goods to verify compliance with the emission standards. We are currently developing the sample preparation and testing protocols that we will use to enforce the ATCM (see page 127 of the ISOR). The sample preparation and emission testing protocol we use to enforce the ATCM will be technically sound and will be more than adequate to identify non‐ compliant composite wood products found in finished goods for California.(v)

Although Lumber Liquidators says it has done testing, it does not say that it has performed deconstructive testing.

The company also posted a chart of “Fiberboard Core Testing” on its website. If these tests were performed by “Third Party Certifiers” (TPCs)vi in China, it would only indicate that the core manufacturer is capable of producing CARB‐compliant cores – not that the cores used in Lumber Liquidators’ products are actually CARB compliant. As noted by 60 Minutes, “[e]mployees at the mills openly admitted that they use core boards with higher levels of formaldehyde to make Lumber Liquidators laminates…they also admitted falsely labeling the company’s laminate flooring as CARB2”. In addition, TPCs sometimes conduct testing on pre‐scheduled dates (rather like announcing the location of highway “speed traps.”) Therefore, TPC tests do not, and cannot, prove that all of Lumber Liquidators’ Chinese‐made products sold in the United States comply with CARB standards. Lumber Liquidators has acknowledged as much in a public court filing:

“A [third‐party certification] is obtained from an approved, third‐party testing lab that tests samples of products – not every product – for formaldehyde levels. Thus, LL’s statement that it obtains [third‐party certifications] from its suppliers (mills) is in no way a representation that every single product meets CARB’s standards.”(vii)

###

Global Community Monitor is a nonprofit environmental health and justice organization empowering communities to prevent their exposure to toxic chemicals and promote healthy outcomes for all. Global Community Monitor is joined in the Proposition 65 lawsuit by Sunshine Park, a firm affiliated with private investment companies that have substantial short financial exposure to Lumber Liquidators. Sunshine Park and its affiliates have financed extensive testing and have conducted substantial on‐the‐ ground investigation regarding Chinese‐made laminate flooring production.


 

(i) Lumber Liquidators (LL) has stated that it had “over 620,000 customer transactions” in 2014 alone. LL also states that Laminate, Bamboo, Cork, and Vinyl Plank together accounted for 38% of net sales in 2014. In previous years, LL also disclosed that laminates were 22%, 23%, and 21% of net sales in 2012, 2011, and 2010, respectively. Source: Lumber Liquidators Holdings, Inc. SEC filings

(ii) See http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/compwood.htm
(iii) This SOP can be found in the “Test Methods” section of CARB’s website (http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/outreach/testmethods.htm)
(iv) See http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/outreach/compwood_sop_fg_decon_091313.pdf
v See http://www.arb.ca.gov/regact/2007/compwood07/fsorcompwood07.pdf [Agency Response [24‐Landry‐ 070423‐CWIC] (emphasis added).
(vi) CARB defines a Third Party Certifier as “an organization or entity approved by the Executive Officer that verifies the accuracy of the emission test procedures and facilities used by manufacturers to conduct formaldehyde emission tests, monitors manufacturer quality assurance programs, and provides independent audits and inspections.” See http://www.arb.ca.gov/toxics/compwood/certifiers.htm
(vii) See Donnie Williamson, et al., v Lumber Liquidators, Inc. Case #1:14‐00035‐GBL‐TCB. “Memorandum in Support of Defendant Lumber Liquidators, Inc.’s Motion to Dismiss Under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).” Emphasis in original

 

 

 

~Save the Date~

60 Minutes Viewing Party

March 1, 2015 – 5pm – 8pm at the Ivy Room60 minutes invite

GCM is going to be on 60 Minutes and we’re all meeting up at the Ivy Room to watch it!  Pamela’s going to bring some salad and Denny’s making vegan chili & cornbread so BYO chili toppings and support our local watering hole by buying a cocktail from the bar.

Come join GCM Staff (we may even sign an autograph or two..) and learn more about the work we’re doing in California and worldwide to protect everyone from toxic exposure.

RSVP here

 

gcm-logo

 

Whew, 2014 went by quickly and we were busy!

GCM’s 2014 PROJECT HIGHLIGHTS

GCM produced a landmark year, bringing long-term projects (2+ years) to a close in 2014.  Working in partnership with Coming Clean Collaborative and community partners to simultaneously release Warning Signs, a national report, and journal article on gas operations/fracking in late October. The report and article featured GCM’s monitoring work around gas operations in six states and provided a snapshot of the impacts of the industry throughout the country.

Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) issued a statewide Air Quality Report, Breathe In New Mexico, featuring
Bucket Brigades in Albuquerque, Mesquite and the Navajo Reservation in November.

CommunityRecycleIn partnership with Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment and the Committee for A Better Arvin, we gathered a trail of evidence exposing the local compost facility’s poisoning of the local community. The publication, Rotten Neighbor: The Story of Community Recycling and Resource Recovery and the South Kern Communities Held Hostage by Neglect was released on the 3rd anniversary of two young workers’ deaths in October.

GCM also closed out the East Bay Body Burden Study in August.

GCM worked with partners to analyze monitoring data and release reports on the movement of goods including:

  • Argentine/Turner, Kansas: Focusing on a nearby rail yard, GCM and partners released a report that showed unhealthy levels of diesel exhaust, levels high enough on some days to send the elderly to the hospital or to raise the death rate among residents. The project was featured in a front-page story in the Kansas City Star.
  • Seward, Alaska: In July, the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, Community Action Against Toxins and Global Community Monitor released the results of our collaborative air quality testing study. The report samples revealed that air around the Seward Coal Loading Facility expose neighbors to crystalline silica.
  • Houston, Texas: After closing out a year of sampling, we issued a report suggesting that every day the 10,000 residents of Galena Park are being exposed to unhealthy levels of particulate matter pollution from 5,000 diesel trucks entering and exiting Houston’s port.
  • Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana: Working with local residents, the Gulf Restoration Network and the Clean Gulf Commerce Coalition, GCM launched a coal export monitoring project in 2014.

GCM’s Long Term/In Depth Partnerships

Central Valley:

  • GCM has begun developing a model for improving the acceptance of community-based air monitoring and data into air district policy and decision making and enforcement of existing rules.
  • GCM’s Central Valley Organizer responded to complaints about gas odors in residents’ homes in Arvin, CA. Sample results revealed over twenty toxic chemicals, including cancer-causing benzene. The County evacuated eight homes. It was determined that fracking waste gas was beneath the homes. After months of advocating, Governor Jerry Brown intervened on behalf of the State. Flare in Shafter
  • We are completing a pilot one-year ozone monitoring program in Central Valley.  GCM obtained funding to purchase various new air sensors and field test an ultrafine particulate monitor

Bay Area:

  • Chevron’s real time Air Monitoring system in Richmond, CA went online with GCM serving as the City of Richmond’s expert advising the staff and ensuring accountability. This system is the best state-of-the-art refinery air-monitoring project in the nation and establishes a national model.
  • GCM has been participating in SF Bay Area Air Board meetings to advocate for the strongest Refinery Crude Slate and Tracking Rule in the nation. aimeecbrcrop
  • GCM provided guidance, planning and fundraising assistance to a newly formed Bay Area Refinery Corridor Coalition in the San Francisco Bay Area to help address crude by rail projects and refinery expansions.

2014 New Projects:

GCM launched two new air-monitoring collaborations with Jamaica Environment Trust in Clarendon & St. Anne
Parish, Jamaica and the Neighbors for Clean Air in Portland, OR.

cropped-cropped-Conf-Logo-4-web-banner-980x3501

GCM organized a national gathering, the Community-Based Science for Action Conference, in November in New Orleans. This three-day event was co-hosted by local partners, Louisiana Bucket Brigade and Public Lab.

The event included a toxic tour of coal trains and a coal terminal in Gretna and Ironton, LA. Over 50 people, primarily industrial occupation doctors and nurses associated with the American Public Health Association Conference, attended the tour.  The following two days brought together approximately 150 attendees participating in 20 sessions featuring presenters from leading organizations and academic institutions.  Feedback from presenters and attendees has been extremely positive and supportive.  GCM was able to offer 35 scholarships to community members and presenters.
In addition, we participated in the Rally Against Fracking in Sacramento and all four of the Healing Walks in the Bay Area, organized by Idle No More.

Students at Don't Frack CA Rally

We also participated in numerous conferences and finally got a GCM Advisory Board organized to work on:

  • Expanding GCM’s monitoring tool kit
  • Build a place to provide resources for communities (online forums, website)
  • Leverage & legitimize current methods
  • Data presentation
  • Alternatives to fossil fuels

So Happy New Year!  And let’s see what we can accomplish in 2015.

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.

  1. 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!

And if you haven’t seen our photos or filled out the feedback form, please check it out.

Recently I have been spending more time in city and county meetings where the topic is theoretically how local government will regulate the activity of a local refinery – which is actually a multi-national multi-billion dollar entity with a local franchise.  Somehow during these meetings the regulation of health and safety of the community always seems to take a back seat to jobs and money.

We all know  one thing that these big oil companies have is a lot of MONEY. For example, the 2013 profits for the BIG 5 oil companies, you know, BP, Chevron, Conoco Phillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell­­­­­­ – were $93.3 billion last year! That’s $177 G’s  per minute. 

Admittedly, Big Oil companies do have some expenses. But where they are spending this money Top 5 oil co graphmay surprise you.

Over the past 15 years, Big Oil spent $123.6 million to lobby Sacramento and $143.3 million on California political candidates and campaigns. I wouldn’t know from experience but I’d bet you can make a lot of friends with that much money dropping out of your pockets, year after year.

These friends might attach more importance to Big Oil’s concerns about over-regulation than they would to a resident who might not have the funds to contribute to anyone’s campaign fund.

A recent report by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment Institute (ACCE) and Common Cause, “Big Oil Floods the Capitol: How California’s Oil Companies Funnel Funds into the Legislature,” speaks to the extreme power of the Oil and Gas Lobby, as well as the Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) in Sacramento.

Dan Bacher, California Central Valley reporter for IndyBay, in his review of the report, noted that the

“fact that the oil industry is the largest corporate lobby in California, one that dominates environmental politics like no other industry“ makes California “much closer to Louisiana and Florida in its domination by corporate interests.”

Another way oil companies grease the wheels of influence is through their charitable giving in local oil and gas lobbycommunities. Where I live in Martinez, the yellow Shell refinery logo is on virtually all city events including our local Earth Day celebration located at the historic home of iconic environmentalist John Muir.  In Richmond, Chevron ladles out millions of dollars to local social services nonprofits working with low-income Richmond residents while simultaneously polluting their community.

These kinds of donations seem  to  reduce  short term costs for the local government, but there is a very real long term cost as well.

And one of the most insidious dynamics is that city budgets are structurally reliant on tax revenue from refineries.   According to the Contra Costa Times, “tens of millions in Chevron tax revenue bolster the [Richmond] city budget, providing police and other services that similarly sized cities in Contra Costa County can only dream about.”

It certainly seems like Big Oil has a stranglehold on California politics and regulatory agencies. Recently, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) came out in favor of Chevron’s expansion project.  After being advised by members of the Stationary Source committee that the appropriate behavior would be to merely answer questions at the Richmond meetings, BAAQMD Chief Air Pollution Control Officer, Jack Broadbent, chose to sign up as a speaker at both Richmond public meetings. He spoke in favor of the Chevron project and formally stated that there was no scientifically feasible way to mitigate condensable particulate matter for the Chevron project. This kind of emission from refineries is composed of carcinogenic particles about 1 micron in width that can lodge deep down in your lungs – see reference below.

microns

Prior to the two Richmond meetings, it had been clearly spelled out for the BAAQMD Stationary Source committee by multiple experts (with Broadbent present) that there was a mitigation technique (SCAQMD FEA Rule 1105.1) that would lessen pollution in Richmond by some 56 tons of the worst stuff you can breathe per year. And it has been mitigated since 2003 in the South Coast Air Quality Management District. So, choosing not to mitigate the really dangerous stuff pouring out of Chevron, like cancer-causing condensable particulate matter, is an impossible conclusion to reach by the authority charged with air quality control. Especially when you know otherwise. This is a 56 ton stain on the BAAQMD board and staff. And 56 tons of micron sized particles are unnecessarily heading for the lungs of the men, women, children, and animals that live or work in Richmond over the next year.

Is anyone at these BAAQMD meetings pushing for cleaner air except the community rights advocates?  What influence removes the teeth from the bill, waters down the regulation at the last minute, and causes people to lose their most basic moral compass?  A healthy community and environment should always be the priority.  And nothing should influence you to believe otherwise.

-Tom Griffith, Martinez Environmental Group, August 14, 2014.

Image from Bloomberg.com

If you live in a port city, chances are you’ve seen quite the increase in activity over the past few years.  Drastic port expansions and dramatic increases in truck traffic are happening all over the U.S. which has raised a lot of concerns among residents, regarding air quality and traffic safety.  And without missing a step, many community residents got organized and ready to fight for their right to clean air and healthy communities.

Image from NRDC

The Moving Forward Network emerged as a great resource for community members living on the fenceline of numerous multi-million dollar port expansions.  Through the Network, residents can connect with other communities, living hundreds of miles away, to discuss what worked and what didn’t.  Often times communities can share tools, like air monitors, to document the problem and everyone can stand in solidarity for each other.  It’s a great idea and it works!

Here’s the thing though: while the Moving Forward Network is connecting to port communities within the United States, the increase in ports and goods movement affects communities all over the globe.

A similar international network has not yet formed.

Meanwhile, communities in isolation are doing their best to respond to this growing international crisis.

Image from IDEX

Desmond D’Sa, this year’s Goldman Prize winner from Africa, has led rigorous campaigns in South Durban, South Africa for his community’s right to breathe clean air.  Currently, Desmond and the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDECA) are fighting a $10 billion port expansion.  This port expansion stands to displace thousands of people without compensation and exacerbate problems such as waste management, pollution, and traffic.

You can help Desmond by signing the petition against the port expansion here.

Similarly, fishing communities on Goat Islands in Jamaica are also fighting for their livelihood.  Plans are underway to build a large port in their rural fishing village.

Image from Go Jamaica

This area, because of its coral reefs and mangroves, has been declared a protected area under the Natural Resources Conservation Authority Act (NRCA), and two fish sanctuaries have been declared under the Fisheries Industry Act to protect the fish nursery there.  These would be destroyed forever by the proposed port construction.  In addition thousands of fishermen would no longer be able to support themselves and their families.

Sign their petition here.

Building on the work of the US-based Moving Forward Network, we need to stand in solidarity with port communities throughout the world.  We need to share resources and information on the same level that 21st century goods are moved: on a global level (and we need the leadership of funders to facilitate this international movement building).

The Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance (GAIA) and the Basel Action Network (BAN) are great examples of networks that are working with communities addressing issues within countries and across international borders.  Recognizing the global trade economy, both work towards sustainable waste solutions within the international community.

Let’s use that energy and momentum for an international network for sustainable ports and minimizing the impacts of the global movement of goods.

Each year in April, near Earth Day, Bay Area environmental health and justice advocates converge on San Francisco’s Opera House and City Hall to celebrate the Goldman Environmental Prize. The anticipation starts days in advance with media and parties celebrating the year’s winners. The award includes $175,000 cash prize, and inclusion in a group that lists some of the most tenacious, hardest working, and strategic grassroots activists in the world.

Six individuals are awarded each year from six continents. Prizes are awarded to grassroots activists that have achieved “sustained and significant efforts to protect and enhance the natural environment, often at great personal risk.”

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Goldman Prize.

This year we are excited to join in the celebration with Desmond D’Sa fromDurban, South Africa. Desmond’s work over the past two decades with the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA) has been relentless in their efforts for clean air and a healthy community.

Port-17

Desmond rallies the Community against the proposed port. Photo credit Southlands Sun, South Africa

Desmond, with SDCEA and local, regional and international partners, has won clean air agreements from large refinery neighbors, closed a local dump, was a point person for COP 17 protests and is now leading the charge against the Durban Port expansion. Desmond is full of stories of struggle and victory, and none is more shocking than when a pipe bomb was thrown and exploded at his home during intense campaigning against the refineries.

Desmond was active with Global Community Monitor in the international (anti-) Shell Coalition. As part of this coalition, Des visited County Mayo, Ireland to support Willie Corduff and the Rossport community in the struggle to keep Shell off their farm and community lands. Desmond also visited Richmond, CA in 2011 in support of the community living in the shadow of Chevron.

As a nominator, Global Community Monitor is proud to be associated with the prize winners and the communities they represent. GCM has led and participated in several nominations of Goldman Prize Winners. The Prize is a rare moment for everyday leaders to get the recognition that their sacrifice and persistence deserves.

GCM continues to celebrate Bucket Brigade Leaders Bobby Peek, Durban, South Africa (1998); Margie Richard, Norco, Louisiana (2004); Willie Corduff, County Mayo, Ireland (2007); Hilton Kelley, Port Arthur, Texas (2011) and Dimitry Lisitsyn, Russia (2011).

While the Prize is an amazing recognition, it does not stop the environmental crimes and problems in these communities around the world. Like Desmond, Bobby, Margie, Willie, Hilton and Dimitry, they go on to live another day and fight another fight.

Given their track record, a fight they just might win.

 

Leak 452On March 27, 2014, Global Community Monitor, The Center for Race Poverty and the Environment, the Central California Environmental Justice Network, and The Committee for a Better Arvin submitted the following letter to the Kern County Environmental Health Department and the Department of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources in response to a pipeline leak that was discovered on March 18, 2014.

This leaking pipeline was under a residential block of Arvin.  It’s unclear how long the pipeline had been leaking, but some residents have claimed to have been smelling gas, in their homes, for at least four years.  Residents have questions and we have yet to hear back from either agency. 

March 27, 2014

 Dear Mr. Constantine and Mr. Nechdom,

 Eight families on Nelson Court in Arvin, California (Kern County) were evacuated on Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Residents were unclear and uninformed of the level of danger that the Petro Capital Resource’s leaking gas pipeline was causing.

 The Arvin Bucket Brigade, a joint project with Global Community Monitor, Committee for A Better Arvin and Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment, were contacted by Nelson Court residents. The air monitoring team took an air sample at 6:50 pm on Tuesday, March 18, 2014.

 The air sample contained over twenty chemicals including elevated levels of cancer causing benzene and a mix of total volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The level of total VOCs in the sample collected at 6:50 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18th at 1312 Nelson Court in Arvin is 13 times higher than the levels the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) scientists have associated with adverse health impacts.

 Residents have noticed chemicals odors for several months and have had varying health effects including nose bleeds, coughs and headaches. A pregnant mother passed out. These health effects show a strong correlation with VOC exposure.

 Nelson Court and Arvin residents have many questions about this gas leak and the emergency evacuation:

 1)      How do you determine it is safe to return to my home? Will there be chemicals in my home?

2)      How will Petro Capital Resource’s be held accountable for this leak?

3)      How did the County determine that an emergency evacuation was needed at 7 pm March 18, 2014?

 4)      How many more pipelines like this exist in the area?

5)      How will you keep these pipelines from leaking?

Our team will be following up with your office to discuss the air monitoring results, attached to this letter.

For clean air and healthy communities,

 

Jessica Hendricks, Global Community Monitor

Juan Flores, The Center for Race, Poverty & the Environment

Sal Partida, The Committee for a Better Arvin

Cesar Campos, Central California Environmental Justice Network

Guest Blog by Gustavo Aguirre Jr.

8 AM: Tuesday, March 18th 2014

A resident in Arvin, CA gets a knock at the door.

A staff person with the Kern County Public Health Department greets the homeowner and states to her that there is very high level (later known to be explosive levels) of gas leaking into her home from a broken pipeline underneath the home. The county worker suggests to the homeowner that it might be a good idea to leave the residence, but only on a voluntary basis, for her own health benefit. Then the county worker walks to the next house, and so on for a total of eight homes.

The county worker did not state it was an emergency, so the family stayed home and continued on with their daily routine.

This resident and her family had been smelling a very strong odor of gas for about three months, mainly coming in from electricity outlets; however she never reported it because she did not know where to report it.

Arvin residents in that area of Nelson Court, had seen PG&E drilling holes in and around their homes and yards the week before, thinking nothing of it. The homeowners assumed that PG&E was fixing the gas leak.

3 PM: March 18, 2014

As a community organizer, I Gustavo Aguirre Jr, working with GCM visited a total of five homes in Nelson Court.  ALL OF the residents that I visited confirmed that they had smelled the gas for about 2 to 3 months and were growing concerned with the situation.  Why did it take 2 to 3 months to detect a major gas leak?! Why were residents not warned IMMEDIATELY that the levels of gas in their homes had reached explosive levels?!

6 PM: March 18, 2014

Arvin City Council held their regular meeting, however this meeting was much less routine.  With a heavy media presence, Kern County Supervisor, Leticia Perez, and the Director of Public Health, Matt Constantine, stated and pleaded to the Council that an emergency evacuation for the eight homes on Nelson Court was of the highest priority. 

6:50 PM: March 18, 2014

With the homeowner’s permission, I took an a Bucket sample (air sample) at a residence on Nelson Court.

7 PM: March 18, 2014

Once they made their concerns public, both Mrs. Perez and Mr. Constantine left the meeting to witness the emergency evacuation of all eight homes, including those where the explosive levels of gas were detected. It was then when a resident of one of the homes invited me in to take a Bucket sample (air quality sample) of a room with a very heavy gas odor.

However, only the residents of those eight homes were told of the emergency evacuation.  Many of the folks living just across the street are under the impression that there is little danger to their health and safety.

What the community members still don’t understand is, why did the County wait until 7pm to decide that this was an emergency situation? Especially, if they knew that levels of gas were already at explosive levels at 8am that morning!

In the same home where I took the Bucket air sample, one resident stated, “My pregnant daughter is the one who sleeps in the room with the highest smell of gas, last week she got up to use the restroom and while she was walking to the restroom she passed out on the floor.” This same resident stated that she had been feeling sick these past weeks and now she might believe it has to do with the contestant exposure to the gases from the broken pipeline. However, aside from “high levels of gas” no other information was given to the residents on what they may have been exposed over that time.

According to news reports, Kern County Environmental Health said the line is a field gas line, not natural gas. This basically means it’s a waste oil field gas going to flared, or burned off.

According to the county, until the leak, Petro Capital Resources had no idea the line existed even though it was in use.

The County is unclear how long the leak has been going on. It took several days to track down the owner, a problem it said is common because there is no one agency that keeps track of all underground pipelines.

In two of the eight homes evacuated, two households have pregnant women and are concerned for the health of their families and themselves.

The following day, after the families were evacuated, myself, Gustavo Aguirre and Juan Florez from Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment, visited the families at the hotel (paid for by Petro Capital Resources), they all relayed the urgency to return home and have the county provide a health impact assessment.

We’re expecting the results of the air sample to be back from the laboratory in a few days.  Stay tuned, results will be released Monday, March 24, 2014…………

In late February, GCM made its maiden voyage to Jamaica to train two very different communities on our tried and true Bucket Brigade, as well as launching a few new monitoring tools from our toolkit – water & soil monitoring. IMG_0774 (640x480) (640x480)P1010858 (480x640)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well, the sunburn has faded and the nasty head-cold, that seemed to be passing on island time, has finally run its course.  So, here’s what we learned:

1.   Jamaicans are awesome.

P1010865 (640x480)

From the time we arrived to the day we left, everyone that we worked with was very well organized and ready to take the Bucket Brigade project head on.  Our training packed churches and schoolhouses, and everyone was interested in participating.

P1010888 (640x480) (640x480)

For this project, GCM partnered with the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), an an environmental education and advocacy organization that has been working with communities all over the country. 

The two JET staff members that are

IMG_1134 (640x480) (640x480)

coordinating the project are not only lawyers, but also fierce community organizers.  Together we identified two heavily impacted communities, planned the project out with the community leaders, tied up (almost all of) the logistics and set out on a walking tour of the neighborhoods to get a better idea of sampling locations.

AND – these folks are most definitely experts of their community!  They told us all about the sediment slide, caused by Caribbean Cement Company and their gypsum mine in the Ten Miles community, in 2002 as they were shepherding me down to 

eroded river bed.  They remembered every detail from 2002 while alerting me to every loose rock where I could lose my footing.  The dust in this community is so bad that you can see it rising up through the trees from the bottom of the mountain, right in front of an elementary school. 

IMG_0751 (640x480) (640x480)

The other community tour was no different with the community leaders expressing deep concern regarding the overflow of wastewater from Jamalco’s  aluminium mine, while pulling me out of the way of an angry (and kicking!) donkey.

Bottom line: These folks have what it takes to be successful – knowledge, persistence and determination.  They are ready to take on community monitoring with the Bucket Brigade; they just need the tools to do it.

IMG_1158 (640x480)

3.   The Red Stripe tastes better.

Unfortunately, Lagunitas Brewing Company has yet to expand their distribution market to Jamaica.  DO NOT PANIC!  The Red Stripe beer actually tastes much better in Kingston than anywhere I’ve tried it in the States.

Also worth noting, if given a choice between eating Saltfish and Ackee or a Lobster Patty, go with the Lobster Patty!  Although Saltfish and Ackee is delicious, the Lobster Patties are by far the best thing I’ve ever consumed in my life; and honestly you’ll have multiple opportunities to try the Saltfish and Ackee, but never pass up goat curry cooked by the native villagers.

IMG_0726 (640x480) (640x480)

 

4.   Industry will be industry.

Over the years, we at GCM have seen lots of different industry, but more often than not, the company’s main focus is “dollars and cents, instead of common sense”.  And, unfortunately, this careless company principle crosses many borders.  From toxic waste water overflow in New Town from the aluminium refinery, to toxic waste sediment in Bull Bay  from the gypsum mine; environmental injustice is worldwide.

IMG_1153 (640x480)

BUT – so is the crazy idea that community organizing can change that and recreate a truly sustainable environment for the next generation.

IMG_1149 (640x480) (640x480)