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GCM’s Letter to the Consumer Product Safety Commission

Read a letter from GCM to the CSPC highlighting the comments of the public about the problems with Lumber Liquidators laminate flooring.

Fortune: Lumber Liquidators CEO quits amid federal probe into flooring safety, lawsuits

From Fortune The discount hardwood floor retailer found itself in even more turmoil as its CEO abruptly resigned amid a federal probe into product safety and dozens of lawsuits. Lumber Liquidators Holdings LL -16.50% Chief Executive Bob Lynch has abruptly resigned, creating even more turmoil at the discount hardwood flooring retailer as it faces a Continue Reading »

NY Times: Lumber Liquidators CEO unexpectedly quits

From the New York Times Lumber Liquidators, under scrutiny for months as it faces accusations that it sold products with dangerous levels of formaldehyde, said Thursday that its chief executive had left the company. The chief executive and president, Robert M. Lynch, resigned “unexpectedly,” the company said. Thomas D. Sullivan, the company’s founder, will serve Continue Reading »

CBS News: Lumber Liquidators CEO unexpectedly quits

From CBS News Lumber Liquidators (LL) said Thursday that CEO Robert Lynch is stepping down. Lynch’s surprise exit from the flooring retailer follows a plunge in the company’s financial performance triggered by a March report by CBS news show “60 Minutes” that found some of the Chinese-made laminate flooring sold at its store violated health Continue Reading »

Lumber Liquidators’ insurers want out amid scandal

Lumber Liquidators’ fight against claims its China-sourced laminate flooring contained unsafe levels of formaldehyde could get a lot tougher. Many of the retailer’s product liability insurance carriers are refusing to defend the company in class-action suits brought by unhappy customers — forcing the company to file suit against the insurers, court papers filed in a Continue Reading »

Feds open criminal probe of Lumber Liquidators

The floor gave way under Lumber Liquidators on Wednesday. The troubled hardwood flooring retailer, in a blizzard of bad news, revealed the feds have launched a criminal probe into its China-sourced laminate flooring; reported that first-quarter results swung to a loss from a profit last year; and announced that Chief Financial Officer Daniel Terrell is Continue Reading »

Get the complete and most up to date list on our website.

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Now that the dust has settled, we all got some much needed rest and the final close out paperwork is just about finalized, here are the top ten highlights from the Community Based Science for Action Conference.

  1. New Orleans! 

What better city to host the Community Based Science for Action Conference!  GCM has an exciting project nearby in Plaquemines Parish and co-hosts Public Lab and the Louisiana Bucket Brigade both have offices there.  With great food, music and culture; it was never a dull moment.

2.   The Toxic Tour of Myrtle Grove and Woodpark

Going all of the way to New Orleans without visiting our project partners in Plaquemines Parish would have been a huge disservice to all in attendance.   These communities are living on the fenceline of a large coal export terminal and have been plagued with fine coal dust covering their homes, decks and backyards.  Many of the residents all shared a similar story of moving out to the Louisiana bayou for a peaceful retirement.  Now they’re golden years are filled with relentless Environmental Justice activism.  Hearing their stories being shared with fellow activists, community organizers and even some folks from the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting was no less than inspiring.

3.   Keynote Speakers, Hilton Kelley and Gen. Honore

           

Two Environmental Justice leaders lending inspirational stories of their own challenges and success, what a better way to kick off each day of the Conference!

4.   All of the great new monitoring tools & techniques! 

What happens when you bring a bunch of community scientist together?  Well, for starters, they bring all of their monitoring tools to demo!  We had Buckets, Mini Vols, FLIR cameras, Kites and a plethora of gadgets from the Public Lab community. This provided an amazing opportunity to learn about the pros and cons of each as well as learn which ones would work best in each individual community.  Community monitoring tools have come a long way and there’s still room for improvement.  We’re doing our best to make sure all of the presentations are available online, so if you missed it, check here to see if we’ve got it.

5.   Wendy Colonna

We’re building a movement here and all strong social movements need music.  Wendy kept us going!

 6.   The Hosts and Volunteers!

With the community based monitoring expertise of Global Community Monitor, the local knowledge of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade and the resourcefulness of Public Lab the Community Based Science for Action Conference was no less than amazing.  This was by far a powerhouse trio and without the support from all three organizations, the Conference just wouldn’t have been the same.  Similarly, without the help from our volunteers, we’d probably still be trying to set up the place.  Three cheers for the volunteers who kept that show running! 

7.   The Networking Opportunities

Where can a resident from San Antonio, Texas get more information about a community led fight against a diesel emitting railyard from the community member leading one in Kansas City?  Well, the Community Based Science for Action Conference helped to connect those folks.  This conference provided an invaluable opportunity for residents living on the fenceline of heavy industrial pollution to connect with one another and share their own experiences.  What can a fact sheet do for my community?  Do you know anyone at EPA Region 2?  Can you help me organize my community?  How the heck can I use social media for fundraising?  All of these conversations were facilitated by the Community Based Science for Action Conference and that’s pretty rad!

8.   The Venue and Accommodations

The Old U.S. Mint was perfectly located in New Orleans’ French Quarter, and who doesn’t need a beignets break in between sessions?  The layout worked well, the auditorium was perfect for large sessions and there was plenty of room for one on one conversations.  Similarly, the Hyatt was a great place to recharge at the end of the day.  The plush pillows, multiple restaurants and gathering places, AND that breakfast buffet was delicious!!

9.   Happy Hour at the Maison

Open bar, tasty New Orleans appetizers and live music? Yes, please!

10.   The Attendees!

Even the best of the best planned conferences mean nothing without a wide range of attendees.  The scholarship assistance ensured that no one was turned away for lack of funds, which is crucial in getting community leaders there.  This movement is going to take people power and by the looks of it, we’ve got a pretty phenomenal bunch.  If it weren’t for the attendees, us hosts would have gotten pretty lonely.  So, thanks for coming out, thanks for your support and thanks for sharing your expertise!

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

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?

Image

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

 

This is a guest blog written by April Lane, a Bucket Brigade leader on the front lines in Arkansas.

oil spill 302On Friday March 29, 2013 an Exxon Mobile Pipeline ruptured sending oil some experts compare closely to tar sands oil through a subdivision in Mayflower, Ark. The pipeline blew at approximately 2 p.m. and was discovered by area residents soon after. The subdivision that sits right off of I-40, one of the busiest interstates in the state, never knew the pipeline was even there and it is just now being marked.This subdivision also sits just a creek and railroad track away from the Mayflower school. As the wave of oil made it through the subdivision it found a drainage ditch and then it hit the creek that runs down the side of the railroad tracks.  It ran to a pipe that goes under the interstate and comes out on the other side into Lake Conway and a wildlife habitat.  

Estimates are now saying that at least 10,000 barrels of heavy Canadian crude oil were lost in the incident. On Saturday, March 30th crews arrived from out of state to begin the clean-up. It was then that we learned that the pipe had leaked from 2 p.m. Friday until Saturday morning at approximately 3 a.m. oil spill 367The efforts were led by the county and state agencies at first and they had a lot of trouble getting the blockade to hold to keep the oil contained. Residents were evacuated but not everyone chose to leave. A few residents decided to stay and still reside inside the “hot zone.” Local teams have been working around the clock at the various places throughout this junction in town that this oil has popped out at.  But once you have walked the streets and surveyed the area in its entirety you can’t help but ponder, “how will they ever get it all cleaned up?” oil spill 379
Sunday, March 31st new wildlife effects were discovered surrounding the Lake. Ducks were found covered in oil. Some made it through but many did not and the window to helping the one’s that can be saved is closing rapidly. The total amount of wildlife that has been affected is still unknown and numbers continue to rise. More alarming than the loss of wildlife is that local residents have already begun to notice the effects. The first resident we approached on Saturday was one of the effected residents who chose to evacuate but only after her son began having wheezing, diarrhea and nausea from the fumes. Many residents outside of the hot zone in the surrounding neighborhoods that run next to where the spill occurred are experiencing symptoms. They describe the odor as being so strong that you can “cut it with a knife” and following the spill on Friday they began having a metallic like taste on their tongue and severe headaches followed by nausea. All of their questions have been left unanswered and the only answer they have received is that the air is safe.  Monday and Tuesday followed with an increased influx of companies and out-of-state license plates. oil spill 339

Today, our Attorney General Dustin McDaniel toured the area and described the neighborhood where the spill originated as a scene out of the walking dead. I would say I think it is clear to everyone that has walked the streets and the various locations surrounding the lake that this is an event that not only will take months to clean up but will also have an impact on the town of Mayflower and the residents that will ripple outwards 
into the surrounding areas that will last much longer than anyone is currently addressing.  However, the after-school sports practice involving 8 to 10 children practicing outdoors directly across the railroad tracks from where the spill occurred clearly emphasizes that appropriate measures to limit exposure to area residents are not yet being enforced to the fullest as to limit panic and further public outcry demanding answers and action.

oil spill 301

 

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!

What were you up to on Dec. 11, 2012? 2012-12-11 19.01.39

Well if you weren’t at our Holiday Housewarming Party, you missed out on some great food, drinks and lively conversation.

GCM opened its office doors for an open house at a one of a kind location.  In case you haven’t heard, we over here at Airhugger work out of a home office built with recycled shipping containers.  It’s a five star green home built with sustainable materials including no VOC paint and bamboo floors.  So we wanted to show it off to our local activists, Board members and allies.

2012-12-11 17.17.59Emily Su, former Chez Panisse chef, prepared AMAZING food and with a couple donations from Trader Joe’s and El Cerrito Natural, we pulled together a few sweet holiday snacks.

As children ran around in sparkly costumes and guests mingled, our Board Treasurer spoke about our extensive work in California’s Central Valley as well as in the Bay Area.  We sprung into action following

2012-12-11 17.52.36the Chevron Refinery fire in Richmond, CA and continue to work in the well established, grassroots Environmental Justice movement in the Central Valley around compromised air quality.Many were amazed at just how much a small staff can accomplish on a non-profit budget.

But, our work is not limited to California.  We’ve launched a multi-state project of citizen based air monitoring near fracking and other natural gas development sites as well as connected with activists fighting the refining of tar sands crude along the Canada/US border.
Holidayparty

All in all, it’s been a crazy busy year for us!  So we had more than earned a little time to celebrate our hard work and it was so rewarding to be able to celebrate this time with our hard working Board members and supporters.  BIG THANKS to all who joined us!

If you weren’t able to make it, we missed you!  But, it’s not too late to make your year end gift to GCM to support our local, national and international work.  In the midst of so many environmental threats, your contribution could not be more appreciated than right now.       

Residents of Seward, Alaska are concerned about elevated levels of coal dust in the air surrounding their community. They’re fighting for strict regulations and state of the art controls to contain the coal dust coming off of the Seward Coal Export facility, and into their community.