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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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Remember, a little over a year ago, when the State of California proposed new fracking regulations?  Remember how they do not regulate air pollution associated with fracking?  Well they are currently in the public comment period and we want to make sure Governor Jerry Brown hears our concerns about the air pollution associated with fracking.  

Wednesday, January 8, 2014:  GCM staff traveled to California’s Central Valley to unite with the residents living on the front lines of the fracking boom, to express concerns regarding the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources’ (DOGGR) proposed regulations at a public hearing held at the Kern County Administrative Building.  What a trip!!

Residents traveled from all over the Central Valley, showed up early with signs and anti-fracking chants.  We staged a rally out front and cheered as motorists honked in support.  Then, one by one, we filed in and filled out our cards to make public comment.  Everyone could agree that these proposed regulations were not going to protect the health and safety of Valley residents from the potential pollution associated with fracking.

Governor Brown’s new fracking regulations are flawed, especially related to air pollution by:

  • a lack of air monitoring;

  • inadequate control of emissions from fracking and related production operations;

  • a lack of regulation on flares. Flare in Shafter

Back in December, GCM Staff connected with concerned residents in Shafter, CA where there is nearly constant flaring going on at a fracking site.  The flare is just upwind of a school and community garden, where residents have reported acute health effects, like burning eyes and sore throats.

Central Valley residents, active with the Bucket Brigade, were able to collect an air sample, near this site, in Shafter.   

The results show a presence of five different chemicals, known to be associated with fracking operations as well as increased levels of methane, also common near fracking sites.

The level of acrylonitrile detected at this location, 5.9 µg/m3, is 590 times the reference level set by the US EPA, to be associated with an increased risk of cancer for a lifetime of exposure.  Additionally, it also exceeds the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) chronic reference exposure level, and could pose an increased risk for negative health effects on the respiratory system.

The sample results also detected a mix of toxic chemicals, including  styrene, chlorobenzene, toluene and ethanol, as well as a methane level of 2.7 ppm, which is higher than normal background levels, indicating that this sample location may be impacted by localized emissions of methane.

Considering that California’s Central Valley has some of the worst air quality in the Country, air pollution from fracking could serve to overburden residents living in the Central Valley. Especially among vulnerable populations like children, pregnant women, seniors and those with already compromised immune systems.

Residents of the Central Valley, and all other parts of California, deserve clean air not fracking wells.  Not able to express your concerns at a public hearing?  No problem.  Comments can be submitted online.  Take action for clean air and let Governor Brown know that you oppose fracking in California!

gcm-logoWhew, 2013 is just about over and looking back, Global Community Monitor has been busy!!

Check out our victories and accomplishments as well as some of the groundwork we’ve laid to move forward.

Victories

Buffalo, NY: Company Tried and Convicted for Environmental Crimes, Reduction of Cancer Causing Benzene

Tonawanda Coke and their Environmental Manager were found guilty of 14 acts violating the Clean Air Act in March.  This decision came almost ten years after a GCM Bucket Brigade training and air samples exposing benzene in the Tonawanda air. Through relentless activism by residents of Tonawanda, and the the Clean Air Coalition of Western New York, Tonawanda Coke will be $200 million in fines and cleaning up their act.

Chicago, IL: Community Wins Demands for Rail Yard Expansion

Environmental Law Policy Center (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.

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.  By the time we were installing the monitors, the City was reaching out to ELPC to set up a time to meet.

Scrap Metal Rule: Building On Metal Recycler Air Pollution Policy Victory

Due to GCM’s persistent efforts, and the release of our report – Green Industry? Under the Radar: Air Pollution from Metal Recyclers, the BAAQMD became the first agency in the nation to issue a rule to regulate toxic emissions from these facilities. The Air District estimates that these rules will reduce particulate matter emissions in the Bay Area by about 12 tons per year.

Train the Trainer: GCM has just begun a pilot “Train the Trainer” project with the Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) based in Anchorage, AK. GCM staff joined ACAT for a one day training in Anchorage and then ventured together to Nuiqsut, a small native village on the North Slope which is deeply entrenched in oil & gas development with no emergency response options for accidents.

Issues

With the expansion of the Panama Canal, a lot more traffic can be expected in our port communities, as well as communities living near freeways and transit hubs.  Many residents are concerned about the potential increase in diesel emissions, especially when so many are already overburdened by toxic air pollution.

Houston, TX: Partner organization Air Alliance Houston (AAH) has been a pivotal networking ally.  Our results demonstrate that the “official” State monitor for PM 2.5 do not represent the accurately PM impacts in the the Ship Channel and fall just below the Federal standard.  This monitor’s readings will determine if the Houston area is out of compliance and trigger a multi-million-billion dollar clean up.

Kansas: GCM conducted a training in Gardner, KS to collect baseline measurements prior to the completion of a huge new intermodal terminal which scheduled to go online in this community.

GCM also trained residents in Argentine/Turner area which is home to a huge existing intermodal terminal. Both communities are near Kansas City.

Plaquemines Parish, LA: GCM held a training in July. Plaquemines Parish Port is the gateway to the Ports of New Orleans and Baton Rouge and to all of the Mississippi River Valley export corridor. Two of the country’s biggest coal terminals are located at this Port.  We are partnered with the Gulf Restoration Network and the local Sierra Club Chapter.  One site is the Historic Freed Slave Community of Ironton.

Although the Keystone XL Pipeline is in the forefront of the tar sands debate, many US cities are already seeing heavy crude oil in their communities.

Mayflower, AR: EMERGENCY RESPONSE Tar sands Oil Spill

On March 29, Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured releasing 80,000 gallons of Wabascan (Alberta, Canada) tar sands crude, also known as bitumen, in Mayflower, a small suburban town outside of Little Rock. The pipeline carries tar sands from Alberta to Illinois to Texas via Arkansas.

GCM trained Faulkner County Citizens Advisory Group on the Bucket Brigade in 2012, after the spill, the Citizens group immediately went onsite and gained access for the first week-taking samples, documenting health symptoms and also getting sick.

Mobile 045Whiting, IN: GCM conducted a community training on fenceline real time air monitoring results in East Chicago/Whiting, IN, with long standing community partner, Calumet Project. This training is a direct result of the lawsuit with BP Whiting on their tar sands expansion in 2008.

Toledo, OH: GCM submitted comments Ohio EPA in June 2013 opposing BP/Husky’s tar sands expansion.  Following on the string of expansions of Midwestern refineries (BP Whiting, Marathon Detroit), a BP-Husky joint venture is pushing forward with a $2.5 billion expansion of its refinery in Toledo, Ohio to process tar sands crude oil.

Benicia, CA: GCM is working with local community group Good Neighbor Steering Committee and the Natural Resources Defense Council on stopping tar sands from being brought in by rail to Valero oil refinery in Benicia.

Pittsburgh, CA: GCM staff is working with the newly formed Pittsburgh Defense Council to counter  the WesPac Energy oil terminal and transfer station. WesPac Energy-Pittsburg LLC plans to turn a 125-acre area of industrial land near homes by the Pittsburg Marina into a facility to unload crude oil from ships and rail cars, store it in giant round tanks, and then send it through pipelines to local refineries. Under the revised plan, it will be possible to offload an average of 242,000 barrels a day of crude oil or partially refined crude oil from both ships and rail cars.

Well, this is just going to have to be a surprise for next year.  Get ready, it’s going to be a big one!!

And Just a Few More – By Location

Bay Area

Body Burden: GCM is continuing work on this study, despite delays. Since May 2013, we have 12 families consented to participate in the project, have taken 11 questionnaires, four wipe samples at the participants home and five blood samples.  Samples will be tested for the same heavy metals we documented in the air, to determine just how impacted nearby neighbors may be.

Richmond: GCM signed a contract with the city of Richmond to advise on the Community Air Monitoring as a direct result of the Chevron fire on August 6, 2012. Chevron is installing real time air monitoring equipment with Argos Environmental.

GCM is advising on locations of monitors, community engagement on how to use the information and overall emissions reductions. You can check it out here.

Central Valley

Arvin: In September GCM has closed an active two year project with the town of Arvin and the Committee for A Better Arvin and Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment. During the past two years, the Committee have recorded 440 pollution incidents, taken 15 bucket air samples and 20 particulate matter samples. Results show elevated levels of hydrogen sulfide and diesel. GCM has also worked to pilot a new ozone monitor in this ozone impacted community.

All groups will continue to engage with the Air District, County Supervisors and EPA on air quality issues related to the Community Recycling (composting) facility in nearby Lamont.  GCM has worked with CRPE and CBA to establish a new working relationship and to begin another year long project. Additionally, GCM expanded our team and hired Gustavo Aguirre Jr. as the Central Valley Organizer.

International

GCM continues to develop projects with international partners in China, Jamaica, Mexico, Egypt, Philippines, and Chile.

India: GCM organizational partner Shweta Narayan from Chennai, Tamil Nadu in Southern India visited the US.  Community Environmental Monitors continue to work around cement kiln incinerators throughout the country.

You can listen to an interview with Shweta and Denny on this podcast by Annie Leonard, Story of Stuff as part of a series on “Good Stuff”:

 

 

US Fencelines, ongoing technical assistance

New Mexico: GCM is partnering with the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP) on a statewide initiative. To date New Mexico and Navajo nation leaders have taken samples including:

  • Seven bucket samples documenting the fingerprint of asphalt operations and sixteen particle and diesel samples exposing elevated exposure to the idling trains in the San Jose neighborhood of Albuquerque.

  • Over 40 particulate matter samples documenting the dust levels from the BHP coal mine on the Navajo nation reserve. These samples have consistently shown levels higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) 24 hour health based guidelines for PM 10. Further testing on crystalline silica from coal is being conducted.

  • Taken seven bucket samples in Mesquite. These samples gave solid evidence that Helena Chemicals operations are not limited to their property and are over flowing into the community.

Delaware: GCM continues to work with community partners and the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control.

Claymont: Is on the fourth year of their air monitoring work focused on Evraz Steel. Evraz has installed a portion of the environmental controls to reduce emissions at the facility.  Recent samples and complaints demonstrated that dust problems continues to be serious and led to further enforcement actions against the facility.

Delaware City: GCM conducted a follow up training in Delaware City around the PBF Energy refinery on particulate air monitoring.

ImageOn Friday Dec. 6th, Kern County Superior Court Judge, J. Eric Bradshaw, ruled against Kern County, CA and its residents, in favor of Community Recycling and Resource Recovery.  The facility can continue operations as usual and is no longer responsible for a $2.3 million fine in connection with the deaths of two workers in 2011.

The two young workers were killed from hydrogen sulfide exposure while working at the facility on Oct. 12, 2011.  Over a month later, on Nov. 15, 2011 the Kern County Board of Supervisor levied the $2.3 million dollar fine and revoked Community Recycling’s operating permit.

 

Apparently, “the decision by Kern County Supervisors to quickly close down a Lamont-area composting facility after the deaths of two men violated due process” according to the Bakersfield Californian.

Two young workers were killed from hydrogen sulfide exposure while working at the facility on Oct. 12, 2011.  Over a month later, on Nov. 15, 2011 the Kern County Board of Supervisor levied the $2.3 million dollar fine and revoked Community Recycling’s operating permit.  Although it’s important to respect due process, how long can we be expected to wait on it while many more young workers’ lives may be at stake?  Especially considering Cal-OSHA findings, that five times, between Oct. 12, 2011 and Nov. 15, 2011, the company violated an agency order that no one come within six feet of any openings or entries to the site’s storm drain system, where the two brothers were found unconscious.  Does the time required for due process put more workers and community members at risk? 

It’s becoming more and more apparent that this facility is not operating in the safest manner and does not want to cooperate with the agencies or elected officials.  “The bottom line is, I just can’t believe this company anymore” according to Kern County Supervisor, Mike Maggard.  So how can we ensure the safety of the workers and the community?!  Sal Partida, the President of the Committee for a Better Arvin has a great point, “These innocent people, they had no idea that they were going to go to work that day and die,” and yet the risk still isn’t eliminated.

The Committee for a Better Arvin, in collaboration with Global Community Monitor and the Center for Race Poverty and the Environment, have been collecting air samples near the facility with the Bucket Brigade.  Sample results continue to show a presence of hydrogen sulfide, the same deadly gas that killed the two workers.  This gas is not only a danger to the workers, but the samples confirm that that same gas is escaping from the facility into the community and putting the residents’ health at risk.  

Long-term exposure to hydrogen sulfide is associated with an elevated incidence of respiratory infections, irritation of the eye, nose and throat, coughing, breathlessness, nausea, headache, and mental health impacts, including depression.

Yet, the facility can continue business as usual and is no longer responsible for the $2.3 million fine, because of due process.  One month is not an adequate amount of time for the company to defend itself for killing two workers, violating OSHA orders and repeatedly misleading the Kern County Board of Supervisors?  Case closed?!?!

Well not exactly, considering we’ve got a pretty fierce group of activists in the region.  After taking a few days to lick our wounds, we dusted ourselves off and got back to work.  If the County has a “lots of options” we’ll be there, expressing our concerns and fighting for justice.  Where is due process for the two workers that were killed at the facility?  Is there one set of rules for the corporations and a different set for the workers and community residents?

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300770_2598161672603_309586047_nBorn and raised in California and coming from a family of activists, I was raised around community and union organizing with my father and grandpa in the United Farm Workers Union in Central and Southern California.  As a child I soon embraced and lived by the social equality emphasis my parents evoked on me as farm workers.  As a teen still in Middle and High School, I organized and was in charge of walking precincts in political campaigns in the Los Angeles area as well as in the Coachella and Central Valley.

I have devoted hundreds of hours in volunteer work organizing communities with farm workers’ rights and environmental justice with Organizations such as The United Farm Workers Union, Committee for A Better Arvin and Center on Poverty, Race and the Environment. While in High School, I also was responsible for organized walk-outs in support of the Dream Act and Dreamers.

Furthermore, my passion for social and environmental equality for everyone has lead me to this new Bucket Brigade Organizer position with Global Community Monitor in Kern County  and I am excited to defend the human right to breath clean air and work towards bringing justice to the community in collaboration with various other local, grassroots organizations.

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.

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

 

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