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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.


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.


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.


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.

So often, we, in the environmental justice movement are bombarded with immense challenges and often heartbreaking losses from corporations that seem undefeatable, legislators that don’t seem to make decisions with the people’s best interest in mind and legal systems that are unbearably slow.  And no matter how hard we work on one issue, there’s always that other one that seems to slip past us.

We know we’ve got a difficult task ahead of us, and no one will argue that this isn’t tough work.  But, here’s the thing, we need to celebrate our victories along the way or else we’ll all end up feeling defeated, and essentially will be defeated.

Every year, The Goldman family hosts a ceremony for the annual Goldman Prize recipients.  Many of us pull out our best outfits and dust off those dress shoes to go celebrate six grassroots leaders that have made significant and widely beneficial changes within their community.  We’re reminded change is possible and rejoice in their presence and maybe even secretly hope that shaking their hands will give us a little more patience and strength in our own challenges for grassroots change.

However, since the Goldman Prize is only awarded to six individuals from around the world, once a year, we’d like to outline a few more victories to give us all a little more patience and strength in our fight for environmental justice.

  1. New York: Tonawanda Coke was found to be in violation of the Clean Air Act.

    Image from the Buffalo Record

When nearby residents started collecting samples with GCM’s Bucket Brigade, sample results revealed startling high levels of benzene, levels that were 75 times higher than acceptable health standards, in the surrounding air.  The EPA and local legislators took notice and began their own investigation and in March 2013, after a long and complex trial, a guilty verdict was reached by the jury!

     2.    India: Sterlite Copper Plant ordered closed after gas leak.

On March 28, 2013 nearly 5,000 people marched to the Sterlite Copper Plant in protest of a toxic gas leak that occurred five days before.  Two days later, “officials from 10 governmental departments arrived by the vanload”.  Hours later, the plant had been shut down and the electricity connection to the copper plant had been disconnected.

     3.    Little Village, Chicago, Illinois: 2 Coal Fired Plants to shut down

Image from

Although this is a victory honored with the Goldman Prize it still deserves much mention here.  A Harvard study linked more than 40 premature deaths, 550 emergency room visits and 2,800 asthma attacks every year to the toxic emissions from the two plants, with children being the most vulnerable to the plants’ pollution.  After a ten year grassroots battle, residents earned support from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.  Faced with expensive requirements to upgrade pollution controls and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the owners announced the shutdown of the Crawford and Fisk coal burning plants.

     4.     Installation of air monitors along the fenceline of dangerous oil refineries

Many residents living in environmental justice communities believe,rightfully so, that they at least have the Right to Know what’s in the air that they are breathing.  That will allow them to make informed decisions for their health and the health of their families.  As fair as that sounds, residents are often faced with strong opposition from their industrial neighbors on this very subject.  So when oil refineries start footing the bill to install air monitors on their fenceline, we need to chalk that up as a win! 

In 2004, monitors at an oil refinery in Rodeo, CA were upgraded to include a real-time, public internet feed.  In May 2012, the BP refinery in Whiting, Indiana agreed to install air monitors along their fenceline and rumor has it that Chevron in Richmond, CA is working with the City to install similar equipment at their refinery.

      5.     An estimated 40,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C. for the Forward on Climate Rally in February 2013.

Image from

Anyone who’s ever done any kind of movement organizing knows just how hard it is to get 40,000 people to stand together in solidarity for something, and anyone who’s spent a February in D.C knows how unbearably cold it can be.  So let’s recognize how big of a win this is!  Our message about how dirty tar sands oil is has

reached the masses.  It was only a few years ago, people thought I was collecting signatures on a petition against Tarzan.  This past February, those 5,000 signatures collected were distributed to the White House in connection with one of the largest climate justice rallies in US history.

All of these victories have help people breathe easier, created less pollution in the air, less asthma and an opportunity for people to actually have their inherit right of living with clean air.  Although, we can only list out these five at the moment (we need to get back to turning our work in CA’s Central Valley into something that will make this list!) there are many more!  Have one that we missed?  Feel free to tell us about it below!  We share our challenges, we need to remember to share the victories as well.

Hopefully, these big victories will remind us- “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”  

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