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In case you missed it, some great activists are coming together in Oakland, CA this weekend to demand real leadership on climate change and strategize on how to achieve it.  The heavyweight (activist) contenders include 350.org, Californians Against Fracking, EarthJustice, Idle No More, and you know Global Community Monitor will be there!

Here’s why YOU need to be there:

  • Activists from all over the State are planning on attending.  This means you’ll have an opportunity to connect with the farmer in Kern County, concerned about groundwater contamination from fracking as well as the community leaders who are winning the fight in the Monterey Shale
  • There WILL be stickers!
  • By attending you’ll be able to learn about and contribute to statewide strategies to protect our communities for 2015

GrandLakeSign

  • Oakland’s a great city and the march should take you past the famous Grand Lake Farmers Market where you can pick up a quick snack and relish in the support from the Grand Lake Theater.
  • As always, the more of us show up, the louder the message is to Gov. Jerry Brown!

And, here’s the line-up:

  • Saturday, February 7th starts out with a march at 11:30am, meeting at Frank Ogawa Plaza.
  • Later that day, Californians Against Fracking (CAF) are hosting a statewide convergence at 4pm at Laney College.  Activists who are working to stop fracking in their communities will convene to hear more about CAF and to discuss how their local community or organization can engage with others across the state.
  • Sunday, February 8th, ForestEthics is closing out an amazing weekend with California’s first-ever statewide strategy summit on oil by rail from 9:30am – 4pm at Laney College.

No Fracking Billboard

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!

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.

Yep, it’s 2013 in California- a state usually thought of as one of the most progressive in the country, yet there are plans (the temporary permits have already been issued) to build a brand new coal plant in California’s Central Valley.

For the non-Californians out there, the Central Valley is a much different place than the well-known cities, like San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Image from Angela Fardo

California’s Central Valley has some of the worst air quality in the country, a severe lack of water and is often referred to as  America’s Bread Basket.  This facility would further exacerbate the troubling trend in air pollution, it’s expected to use at least 4,600 gallons of water every minute and farmers are outraged at the potential toxic emissions, which could cover their livelihood with mercury.  And when we’re talking about “one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world” we’re not just talking about putting a few family farmers out of business.

So obviously, residents in California’s Central Valley are pretty concerned about about the proposed facility, for obvious reasons, primarily because it’s just a terrible idea.

Not only is coal a major contributor to climate change, the entire life-cycle of coal power drastically increases particulate pollution within the communities living near these dirty coal operations.  It’s estimated that 24,000 people die prematurely, each year, from pollution associated with coal fired power plants.

Image from Coal-is-Dirty.com

The majority of environmental groups have launched mega-campaigns to lower our nation’s dependence on such a dirty energy source, and the battle against coal power has been around for decades.

So- how did we miss this?!

The short answer it that it’s not being referred to as a coal plant.

The Hydrogen Energy California (HECA) plant is slated for construction in Kern County, California and has even cleared the initial hurdles, receiving a draft air permit from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District (SJVAPCD).  The idea is that this plant will accept petroleum coke and coal, 300+ truckloads daily, and turn it into hydrogen fuel.  Ta-da, you have a brand new clean energy plant in California!

Isn’t this the same business practice that Stringer Bell used to sell drugs on the streets of Baltimore in The Wire, or more applicable the same strategy used by oil companies to market tar sands crude as ‘clean energy’?  It’s simple, if your product has a bad reputation in the public market, change the name.

And, coal has one of the worst reputations.

But- stay tuned for the long answer…………..

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!

Alright folks, it’s the day we’ve all been waiting for!

Drum roll please……………….

Image from MSNBC

Cal/OSHA has issued its fine on Chevron for the Aug. 6th fire at the Richmond Refinery!

Yup, it’s nearly a million dollars, the most the agency has ever imposed on an oil refinery in California, but is it enough to make Chevron change its ways?

Rep. George Miller has his doubts, stating “I believe it alone is an insufficient assurance to the West County residents and the refinery’s workers that they will receive the necessary safety protections they deserve.”  He even continues to say that, “Our community needs more than just promises that safety will improve. We need to see actual changes at this facility implemented and verified.”

Although, it seems the residents of Richmond have George on their side, Chevron is not willing to surrender just yet.  Chevron is planning to appeal the fine, sending this ruling back to the depth of bureaucracy while the Richmond community lays waiting for a potentially worse disaster.

Chevron has already had two major fires in the past five years!  With the pipes at the Chevron Richmond Refinery acting as a ticking time-bomb, how are residents expected to believe that Chevron is putting safety first?

OSHA claimed that Chevron did not even follow the recommendations of its own inspectors to replace the corroded pipe that ultimately ruptured and caused the fire; did not follow its own emergency shutdown procedures when the leak was identified; and did not protect its employees working at the leak site.

Ok, so back to the $1 million dollar fine.  Has the sticker shock worn off yet?

The reality is that $1 million dollars to Chevron means something much different than $1 million to me (and probably you, too).  And, the fine, in and of itself, is not going to protect the families living in the community.

15,000 people were rushed to local hospitals following the Aug. 6th fire.  Independent testing of the fallout following the fire showed the presence of highly carcinogenic chemicals on our window sills, outdoor furniture and play equipment.  Does a million dollar fine compensate for that?

The more we talk about the amount of the fine, the less we’re talking about the safety of the community residents.  It’s really clear to see that Chevron is putting profits over people, YET AGAIN!

So how are we really going to hold Chevron responsible?  Cal/OSHA took the lead by issuing the largest fine allowed by the State, but we – the community residents- need to make sure it’s enforced.  We need to make sure Chevron is following through on its commitment to safety with persistent follow-up.

Image from Fit For Life: Richmond, CA

Agencies move slow and court proceedings move even slower, but we can never forget the risks Chevron poses to our community and we must fight tirelessly to ensure that Chevron is operating in the safest possible way, to protect our children, parents and the broader community.

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.

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 »

Most people don’t understand how government works.

On a recent trip to Bakersfield, California, Global Community Monitor attended a day long tour of several Central Valley communities and an introductory meeting with community members, non-profit organizations, emergency responders and government agency representatives focused on environmental and public health issues.

Teresa DeAnda started the day with an introduction of her personal experience about how she saw and felt pesticides being sprayed near her home. After being passed along to five government agencies, she was still unable to file her original complaint. Sometimes dealing with government agencies feels like Dorothy getting directions from the Scarecrow.

Image from Verdoux

Whether it is pesticide spray, strange dust on your car and home or oil refinery flares going off for hours, it is all too common for communities to not have a clear line of communication with the responsible government agency.

The goal of the day long tour and meeting was to kick off a new project: the Kern Environmental Enforcement Network (KEEN) building on successful projects in the Coachella and Imperial Valleys.

The Imperial Visions Action Network (IVAN) brought together these same stakeholders: community members, non-profits, emergency responders and agency reps to bridge the gap on community issues. Community members and agencies can be like oil and water – they just don’t mix. The IVAN pilot made it possible for these unlikely partners to work together. The project provided a website for communities to document complaints (in person or online), producing a map of the problem and showing patterns for areas of high complaints.

The IVAN project included a task force that met monthly and had the insight to bring in a “problem solver” that worked to shepherd the community complaints to the appropriate agency and see the investigation through.

The collaboration resulted in 170 cases reported, 62 solved, 44 of which were reported violations that brought in over $90,000 in penalties. The act of actively seeing a complaint through and closing it after a thorough investigation is extremely rare and something Bucket Brigaders would like to see more of.

The IVAN online model was established using the Louisiana Bucket Brigade’s iWitness Pollution Map for gulf coast residents after the BP oil spill in 2010 as a model. The iWitness map is active today and has received 5,464 complaints from residents in two years.

GCM and the Bucket Brigade strongly believe that community members have a valuable and necessary role in env

Lupe with CRPE talks about pollution from Community Recycling, Clay Rodgers from the Water Board looks on.

ironmental planning, reporting and enforcement. Whether it is documenting air quality complaints or taking their own air samples, with community information and involvement with government agencies, communities can better understand how government works and improve their community at the same time.

GCM is hoping the task force and “problem solver” for Kern County will have the energy, good will and the follow through that it takes to address the many issues in the Central Valley. The KEEN project is just getting started, so stay tuned! We plan to be posting environmental complaints from Arvin, CA…….

As we discussed in our previous post, residents of Arvin, CA want the truth about what is in the air they are breathing. They know they have the worst air quality in the nation, due to ozone pollution, but could the multiple industries be exacerbating the problem with harmful emissions?

To help them determine what is in the air, they invited GCM to provide them with a Bucket Brigade training in February.

The training kicked off at 10am Sunday: GCM brought the Buckets, and the CBA folks brought the coffee, pan dulces and the sheer passion and determination it takes for grassroots change.  And, much appreciation to CRPE for taking on the BIG task of translation between English and Spanish.

The residents of Arvin were organized and ready with a ton of great questions.  GCM led them through the basics of air pollution, mapped out pollution sources in relation to the community and went over the need to record and keep track of pollution incidents with the Pollution Log.

We quickly learned that Arvin is growing!  There are plans for more houses, jobs and industrial expansions.  All great news considering the lagging economy, but this is a pivotal point for the residents who are concerned about the growing air pollution problem that could go hand-in-hand.

Residents want a straight and honest answer about the potential health risks of living so close to industry.  Community members are concerned about the bad odors near some of the industrial facilities.  They complained of rotten eggs, feces and spoiled fruit; often accompanied by acute health effects.

Sal Partida, President of The Committee for a Better Arvin, shared that “when it rains, you can’t tell what color your car was, because all of the pollution lands on it.”

And what better thing to follow-up that conversation than lunch!  We’re met with some surprised faces and laughter, but it usually doesn’t take too long for everyone to re-gain their appetite.   

Lunch, provided by the community residents, was spectacular.  I put my Cliff Bar away and grabbed a plate of fresh seafood salad, with pulled chicken that had been slow cooked with onions and spices.  And  to top it off hibiscus flavored agua fresca!

Then, onward with the training: it’s time to build the Buckets!  Two teams, four Buckets and two GCM trainers geared up for a little competition.  Which team could build it first?

Obviously, the younger team far surpassed their elders!  We had one Bucket up and running in no more than 15 minutes.

Full Disclosure- this team had seen the Buckets in action before at our Intro meeting, and did have some trouble with the vacuum on the second Bucket.  Additionally, there was no need for translation and so we got quite the head start with instructions.

After the other team caught up, we moved into the essential paperwork for sample data and planned out the pollution monitoring plan.  Everything was falling into place.  The farmer has the early morning pollution patrol and the High School girls have the mid-afternoon patrols.  The community residents decided which four activists would be in charge of the Buckets and circulated contact info so everyone can get in touch with them quickly following a pollution incident.  The Arvin Bucket Brigade is ready to go!  Stay tuned for sample results…..

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