You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘air monitoring’ tag.

Dateline Houston, Texas:  Houston we have a problem: Six little inches of air will determine whether millions of dollars will be spent to clean up the air of millions of people in the Oil and Chemical Capital of the World.

Houston has one of the largest urban networks of air monitors and some of the worst air pollution in the nation.  This is all thanks to their Master Un-Plan.  Thanks to the complete lack of any zoning regulations; freeways, refineries and chemical plants sit right on top of neighborhoods, schools, day cares, hospitals and the like.  Ozone alert days telling everyone to stay inside are a frequent occurrence.

Despite all the monitors in this vast area, the federal determination about Houston’s air quality index for the smallest and most hazardous particle may come down to how about 6 inches of the hundreds of square miles of air is measured.

Two key State run monitors for the pesky PM 2.5 micron size particle are in the bustling Ship Channel area of Galena Park, home to hundreds of major industrial air polluters and the ginormous Port of Houston, filled with trucks, tugs, tankers and diesel powered engines.  All of these are large contributors to PM 2.5 pollution.  The Federal health based standard for PM 2.5 is 12 micrograms per cubic meter over a 24 hour period.

If the two State monitors in the Ship Channel average over 12 this year, the area will be in violation of the Federal Standard to protect human health and be faced with spending hundreds of millions of dollars to clean it up.  Much of that cost would be passed on to the polluters to clean up their emissions.

The State uses standard air monitoring technology, which captures air through a 3-inch intake, so together the two monitors are breathing in 6 inches of air total in this vast region.

And those monitors are supposed to be very thoughtfully located to accurately represent that huge zone.  One has to pause here and question the wisdom and accuracy of these assumptions, but these are the cards we are all currently dealt by our State and Federal Agencies’ clearly outdated protocols and systems.

Right now the more important of the two monitors is located on the very edge of a little community known as Galena Park.  Most of the residents of Galena Park are nowhere near the monitor.  The current average level of PM 2.5 pollution at the Galena Park site is sitting at 11.6, just shy of a violation.

And that’s right where many local politicians, the Port, industry and the State of Texas want to keep it, below 12.

Maybe that’s why several million dollars was spent by these folks to pave dirt roads in the Port adjacent to the monitor site.  And why trees were planted as a buffer to filter particles before they get sucked into that precious 3 inches of Houston’s air.

However, community members in Galena Park together with the non-profit Air Alliance Houston got trained by the Global Community Monitor to do their own independent tests to get to the bottom of what most of the residents of the area are breathing.

Results from 6 months of tests show that the levels of PM 2.5 (taken at 5 sites including schools, City Hall and neighborhoods) are averaging an unhealthy 15.6, well above the Federal standard.

According to recent peer reviewed studies, the levels of fine particles in the air that is often available for breathing in Galena Park could cause hospitalization, heart attack, stroke or premature death.

Of course these areas did not get the benefits of extra paving on Port roads near them and not a single sapling either.

It’s curious that three little inches of air got so much attention and investment so a machine could breathe healthy air, while the 10,000 residents of Galena Park get unhealthy air and zero investment.

But then again you have to consult the Master Un-Plan: unlimited and unplanned growth is encouraged in Texas.

Like Governor Rick says, “We’re open for business in Texas.”  It’s becoming clearer exactly what that means to people trying to breathe in booming places like Houston.

At this rate it’s anybody’s guess how much longer Texas will be “Open for Breathing”.

If you’ve been following along, you’ll remember we officially launched the Arvin Bucket Brigade in December of 2011.  Looking back on this project in California’s Central Valley, I honestly don’t think I had a clue as to what I was signing up for.

In October 2011, two young workers lost their lives after being overcome with hydrogen sulfide at the Community Recycling facility in Lamont, CA. This was the last straw for the community, already overburdened by air pollution, and the residents took matters (and air monitoring equipment) into their own hands.  The Committee for a Better Arvin (CBA) partnered with the Rose Foundation, the Center for Race, Poverty and the Environment (CRPE) and Global Community Monitor (GCM) to get to work documenting air pollution incidents at the Community Recycling (CRRR) facility and advancing policy change in Kern County. 

In less than two years, we have trained 44 residents in three different kinds of air monitoring, collected over 369 pollution logs, 16 VOC (Volatile Organic Compound) and Sulfur samples, 17 diesel samples and 13 Particulate Matter (PM 2.5) samples.

The results continue to confirm community knowledge that the pollution in the area poses a threat to public health.

  • Bucket samples detected up to 24 different chemicals, including hydrogen sulfide.

  • Four of those are above at least one health based standard.

  • The average levels of the PM samples taken at the first sampling location exceeded the WHO’s (World Health Organization) 24 hour standard.

  • Two of the PM 2.5 samples exceeded the EPA & WHO’s 24 hour standard.

  • Five of diesel samples contain levels that pose an excess risk of cardiovascular & respiratory hospitalizations on the day of exposure.

With this data, 16 community members have spoken at six public meetings and issued three press releases  which led to 10 news stories.

Needless to say, we’ve started something here! 

We have captured the attention of the polluter, the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD), the Kern County Board of Supervisors, the California Air Resources Board and EPA Region 9.  We have challenged the SJVAPCD to do side by side testing and have worked with County Supervisors to get CRRR’s operating permit revoked.

Yet, the SJVAPCD still has yet to step up to the plate.  They have discredited our results, dismissed community concerns and kicked us off of meeting agendas.  They refuse to come out to the community during resident identified pollution incidents and have refused to meet with concerned residents.  Is there no corporate regulation here?  Is anyone looking out for the best interests of the community and its residents?  Or are the company and the SJVAPCD just looking at the profits?

Saturday, October 12, 2013 marked the two year anniversary of the two young workers’ deaths from hydrogen sulfide exposure and we are still detecting dangerous levels of hydrogen sulfide along the fenceline of CRRR.  CRRR has continued to appeal nearly every punitive measure levied against them for their numerous violations and the community is still waiting for a judge’s decision, which could close down the CRRR facility.

So, while we’re waiting, the residents continue to document pollution incidents, collect data use the truth in the fight for clean air and a health community.

Well, just after posting our Englewood Deserves a Fair Deal! blog last week, the community members met with the railroad company and the City of Chicago and reached a fair deal!

ELPC negotiated with Norfolk Southern railroad and the City of Chicago for diesel pollution reductions, new green space, sustainability efforts and job training.

Image from SustainableEnglewood.org

“The priority of Sustainable Englewood Initiatives was to make sure this project would not harm our community’s air and cost us more green space,” said John Paul Jones, Co-Founder of Sustainable Englewood Initiatives. “This agreement will put Englewood on the map as a place where the community stood up, the City listened, and the railroad came to the table to find a better way.”

ELPC, Sustainable Englewood Initiatives (SEI), Northwestern University Environmental Law Clinic and other community partners have successfully negotiated a fair deal to reduce air pollution and increase parkland with the rail yard expansion in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

When asked, the majority of the groups think that the monitoring played a huge role in pushing the City and Norfolk Southern to come to an agreement. ELPC had sent the whole Chicago Plan Commission a letter as soon as we had an agreement with GCM, indicating that we were going to do monitoring.  By the time we were installing the monitors, the City was reaching out to ELPC to set up a time to meet.

Bravo to all for achieving this victory for clean air and better public health in Chicago and its Englewood community!  We can all breathe a little easier now, knowing that the air pollution will be reduced for Englewood residents.

Image from dnainfo.com

This community is on the frontlines of a huge Environmental Justice battle and we’ve armed them with Buckets!

Last week GCM traveled to Chicago to launch a brand new Bucket Brigade, in collaboration with Environmental Law and Policy Center and Sustainable Englewood, to monitor diesel emissions in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood.

Englewood is no stranger to Environmental Injustice.  When residents found out Norfolk Southern was planning on nearly doubling the size of its rail yard, expanding it by 85 acres, they knew it was time, yet again, to get organized.

Exposure to diesel exhaust can have immediate health effects. Diesel exhaust can irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs, and it can cause coughs, headaches, lightheadedness and nausea. In studies with human volunteers, diesel exhaust particles made people with allergies more susceptible to the materials to which they are allergic, such as dust and pollen. Exposure to diesel exhaust also causes inflammation in the lungs, which may aggravate chronic respiratory symptoms and increase the frequency or intensity of asthma attacks.

So, what does the community want?  A fair deal for Englewood residents!  This community is tired of being dumped on by Norfolk Southern and the city of Chicago.

On September 12, 2013 Englewood residents met with staff members of ELPC and GCM to lead a tour of the community.  This neighborhood was hit hard by the recession. When home prices dropped, the rail company, Norfolk Southern, began buying up properties and bulldozing the historic homes.  It was only after Norfolk Southern was exposed for this apparent landgrab, that they came clean with the community residents that they had in fact already been in discussion with the City on the expansion.   

That landgrab left the community virtually barren.

Many families were pressured to leave their homes.  Schools closed and homes were bulldozed.  The parks once filled with children’s laughter are

now overgrown and covered in diesel soot.  A once vibrant community is gone, except for the handful of residents refusing to leave the only place they know as home.

The residents showed us the schools, the library, parks and the rail yard.  We watched as work crews finished up the

While the community has accepted the rail yard expansion, they simply want to ensure their quality of life and a safe place for them to live.demolition of a home well over 100 years old and we were detoured around road crews upgrading railroads.  

The next day, over a dozen people came out to attend the training on how to collect their own air samples and use them as an organizing tool.  They wanted to know how and when to operate the equipment, how they can be the most effective and what they can get out of it.

GCM shared success stories from other communities and outlined the Bucket Brigade project.  The ELPC helped the community map out their community and identify ‘hot spots’ to place the monitor. 

Then each community member had a chance to practice setting out the monitoring and programming it to run for 24 hours.  Afterwards we all went over quality control and quality assurance as well as the final paperwork for documenting weather conditions and shipping the samples.  We all went back into the neighborhood to retrieve the sample set out the previous day.

Now Airhugger readers, you better pay close attention here, because this is a hot project.  We’ve decided on an aggressive two month sampling plan to get all the data in on time.  We need to make sure Englewood gets a fair deal from Norfolk Southern and you can stay up to date on this project at gcmonitor.org

 

How many of us have had to work with someone that just didn’t do their job?

In the professional world, we face this all of the time; and considering the lackluster economy, there’s probably someone ELSE out there that is more than willing to do the work.

Especially, when you’re paying them!

Well, when we’re talking about governmental agencies, it can be more complex because you can’t just fire a governmental agency.

I was at a community meeting a few weeks ago, where the Air District came out to discuss the local air quality amid deep community concerns over the presence of manganese in recent air samples.  

The Air District dismissed the health concerns and telling the community that they have nothing to worry about since the manganese levels were below one health based standard, although above various other health based standards.

When a community member asked the air district staff if he would raise his children in the community based on the air quality.  The answer was a resounding NO.  

Needless to say after that, the meeting didn’t go so well.

After the (rightfully so) angry parents regained composure, one woman from the community stood to ask another question.

Image from SierraClub.org

“You’re the air district, you care about clean air, right?  So do we, but why do we have to fight you for our right to breathe clean air?”

Unfortunately, this can be the harsh reality when dealing with air pollution in Environmental Justice communities.  Many residents are upset at the company because of a lack of communication, no emergency evacuation plan, lies about expansion plans, accidents, etc.  Residents then turn to the regional air district for support. It seems like a natural ally in the fight for clean air.  But the reality is that the air district is, most likely, not going to be an ounce of help.

This is extremely disempowering, especially since the Air District’s mandate is ensure our air is clean.  That’s their job and that’s why we pay them! 

Imagine if we were talking about a landscaper, a contractor or even a babysitter!  If you came home one day to find your child bleeding, and the babysitter just said, “Oh, don’t worry about it,” would you invite the babysitter back?

Too bad we can’t do that with air districts and other governmental agencies.

We’ve seen this with other air districts and environmental agencies before.  It’s not uncommon for them to discredit community based air monitoring results, while refusing to do their own air monitoring.  If you want public information from the SJVAPCD about an facility’s emissions, good luck, and if you’re extremely persistent with the follow-up, you might even get a call from someone working at the agency, just to make sure you have the odor complaint line.

The agency folks assure you that they’re investigating your complaints and looking into your sample data, then months later- they claim that you never submitted your complaint or sent along your air monitoring data.  “The investigation is closed…”

All of that will leave you sitting there, rereading the form email from the air district, knowing that the sample results you sent them are long lost somewhere at the air district along with your public info requests, most likely next to the phone in which you’ve left all of those odor complaint messages.

The problem here is that air districts and other environmental agencies often do not act as though they have the communities’ best interest in mind.  The community meetings, public info requests and ‘on-going investigations’ act more like a smokescreen to make it look like they are doing their jobs.  

The reality is, is that if they really did their jobs…………….

They’d have a lot more work to do!  If the Air District acknowledged elevated levels of toxic substances in our air, they would have to do more comprehensive air monitoring.  They’d need to work with residents to identify local hot spots and sensitive locations like schools and daycares.  They’s need stricter regulations and stronger enforcement policies for polluters.  BUT, no one wants to open that can of worms!  

On  the surface, no one wants to create more work for themselves and no one wants to illuminate a problem that requires money (that we don’t have!) to fix.  Although there are also a series of deeper issues that can contribute to the agencies not doing an adequate job of protecting our safety.  

We’ve seen a number of professionals move from governmental jobs to industry jobs and vise versa.  We can’t help but wonder where their allegiances lie.  On top of that we’ve got a lot of corporate donations and heavy lobbying on government by the very industries that are polluting our communities.    

So, almost as if on cue, we’ll hear once again “The air’s fine.  Keep calm and carry on.”

Now where do we go from here?  How can we ensure that our air is safe for us and our children to breathe?  Will it require long term reform of our governmental agencies or ongoing grassroots pressure from the communities living on the fenceline of heavy industry?  

Either way, exposing this charade is a good place to start!

Erie Rising, a grassroots mom (parent) powered organization, has partnered with Global Community Monitor (GCM) to launch a Bucket Brigade in the quickly expanding natural gas development sites. These residents need answers to protect their health and the health of their families. They have a right to know what is in the air that they are breathing.

Image from The Wizard of Oz

So, what’s new in Arvin, California?

The Arvin community has taken matters into their own hands-conducting their own air monitoring.  We are yet to see any real action from the Air District.

One year into the Bucket Brigade project, The Committee for a Better Arvin has taken 11 air samples for VOC’s and sulfurs.  They have been collecting data on ozone pollution daily and are planning to get a particulate monitor up and running by the end of the year.

Turns out, the air monitoring results prove that the air in Arvin can cause negative health effects both over short and long term exposure.  We’ve even detected elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide, the same gas that was responsible for the two workers deaths last fall.

Residents have called attention to the results through community meetings as well as submitted these air results to to local news media outlets and the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.

So, what has the Air District done about it?
Not much!

They called, gave their PR spiel and sent along the odor complaint line.  Turns out the Air District claims it isn’t their responsibility to monitor the air quality in Arvin?!

So, who’s responsibility is it?

The residents of Arvin need comprehensive air monitoring done near Community Recycling & Resource Recovery.  We’ve uncovered elevated levels of toxic gases and people are getting sick, yet the Air District is telling folks that everything is fine.  Although they claim it’s not their responsibility to monitor the air, they have taken a handful of air samples near the facility, but a handful is not enough.  Residents of Arvin need air monitoring done at night and in the early morning hours when they’ve documented the worst pollution incidents.

Sure, the Air District attends just enough community meetings to look like they are interested and create enough hoops to jump through to make community residents feel like it’s their fault that they cannot get the public information documents that they are looking for.  But- just what is it that they do to protect the health and safety of Arvin residents?

The problem here is that the air district is not functioning in an efficient way to protect Arvin residents from toxic air pollution.  Whether it’s confusion over jurisdiction or the inability to collect air samples at times when the community knows high pollution levels are present.  Either way, the inefficiency of the air district to adequately monitor the air in Arvin is once again favoring industry.  So residents will continue to take on the responsibility of monitoring their own air in their fight for clean air and a safe environment.

PS: For those wondering, the Air District claims that air monitoring near Community Recycling is the Health Department’s responsibility.

Photo: Chevron-weagree.com

Rage poured out of residents’ pores and mouths on Tuesday night  in Richmond.

Almost 500 people packed the town’s Civic Center for the Chevron hosted town hall meeting in response to the huge fire at the refinery on Monday night.

The evening,coincided with National Night Out-a major event in Richmond, began with a rally outside organized by Asian Pacific Environmental Network. Richmond’s Green Mayor, Gayle McLaughlin, spoke at this rally, reminding all that economic and environmental justice were key issues for Richmond.

The Cast of Characters
The town hall meeting inside included information about shelter in place and a small postcard was passed out with key numbers-like the claims hotline, odor lines and police.

The meeting was moderated by Joan Davis, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Richmond Community Foundation, an organization that is rumored to receive a significant amount of funding from Chevron. Her presence was unusual and condescending. She began by having each panel member give a short presentation on their role in the fire and the emergency response after, the panel included:

Nigel Hearne, Chevron Richmond refinery General Manager

Randy Sawyer, Director Hazardous Materials Division, Contra Costa Health Services

Bill Lindsay, Richmond City Manager (why wasn’t the Mayor invited on the panel?)

Dr. Wendel Brunner, Contra Costa Public Health Director

Katherine Hern, Contra Costa County Senior Emergency Planning Coordinator

Jeff McKay, Deputy Air Pollution Control Officer, Bay Area Air Quality Management District

Hearne expressed a sincere apology and accepted full responsibility for the fire at the refinery. However, he was unwilling to provide details about the substances burned in unit 4, he described it as a “diesel like” substance.

Hearne was unwilling to provide information about his annual salary. Hearne is a strategic leader for Chevron, formerly the operations manager at their beloved and touted El Segundo Refinery in Southern California.

Randy Sawyer was booed almost as much as Hearne. He provided no tangible information about what materials may have been in the air or what people were being exposed to. Residents felt the emergency response was inadequate-with a delayed siren and some that are registered did not receive calls about the impending danger.

Dr. Wendel Brunner was mildly feisty. He was the first person to discuss health effects from the smoke’s particulate matter. Brunner informed the crowd that as of 5 pm Tuesday, 949 people had reported acute (asthma attacks, burning eyes, burning nose and throat) health symptoms at the two area emergency rooms.
Read the rest of this entry »

Raise your hand if you separate kitchen scraps, throw it in your green bin for municipal composting, and feel like you’re doing good for the environment.

Don’t be embarrassed, I’m with you here!

But, where does it actually go?  And, who is double checking to make sure it only contains organic matter? 

Global Community Monitor has recently launched a new Bucket Brigade in Arvin, CA; a city noted for having the worst air quality in The States.  The number one facility that the residents want to monitor, is a compost facility, that accepts municipal waste.

Nothing about this facility, Community Recycling, echoes the clean, green side of composting.  Recent, Bucket tests have even identified elevated levels of hazardous chemicals escaping across Community Recycling’s fenceline and into the community.

Is this progress?

Sure, it’s convenient for residents of Los Angeles County.  Waste Management delivers a little green bin to put in the kitchen, it’s then filled up with kitchen scraps, dumped into the large green waste bin and picked up by Waste Management weekly.  Residents in Alameda County, don’t have to go through the smelly, sometimes laborious job of composting themselves, but feel good about not throwing these items in the trash and often once a year get to go pick up free planting soil, generated by their ‘green’ waste.

But, residents of Arvin, CA live next to Community Recycling, a facility that accepts this ‘green waste’.  This facility is often impossible to drive past without choking and gagging a bit as you’re trying to have a conversation.  AND- from the looks of it, none of this ‘compost’ is something you’d want to use in your garden anyway!  Metal, plastics and even agricultural waste is visible in the ‘compost’ heaps and they have a contract with the Water District to accept grey water and sewage sludge to spray all over this ‘green’ waste.

What’s so green about that?!  Are we working towards a solution here or are we just relocating the problem?  Yes, municipal, curbside pick-up of green waste has many more people separating their food scraps from their trash, but at what cost?

Maybe the real solution here isn’t a free little green bin for kitchen food scraps, but rather a free little compost bin where residents can compost their own kitchen scraps into non-toxic planning soil to re-use in their garden.

Do you ever wonder what’s in the air you’re breathing?  Could it be harmful?  Maybe, you live next to an oil refinery. Are those odors and burning eyes associated with a chemical presence in the air?  There’s governmental agencies that monitor that, right?  The EPA?  Or maybe that local air district?

These are questions we hear all the time from the fenceline communities that we work with.  How does a neighbor of an oil refinery go about finding out what’s in the air that she’s breathing?

Well, here’s my story-

I wanted to find the emissions inventory (what the company’s emitting in the air) for several facilities in Arvin, California.  Conveniently, there’s a national website, Toxic Release Inventory, where you can put your zip code in and the website searches the database for the registered toxic emissions in your area.  Sounds easy, right? But nothing comes up.  According to this, there’s nothing harmful being emitted by industry in Arvin.  Well, that just doesn’t seem right, I just read that Arvin has the worst air in the Nation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Blog sponsored by…