West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project research reveals dangerous pollution hotspots

As the Moving Forward Network members that do air pollution monitoring know from on-the-ground experience, EPA regulatory air monitors may show an area to have low levels of particulate matter from diesel exhaust and other air pollution when in fact, nearby hot spots can have high and dangerous levls of air pollution.

For example, while the city’s only EPA regulatory monitor showed air was relatively clean, monitoring by the Diesel Health Project around the BNSF Argentine Rail Yard in Kansas City, Kansas revealed dangerous levels of elemental carbon (an indicator of Diesel Exhaust pollution) in nearby resident’s yards, very likely from a nearby locomotive maintenance yard at which as many as 50 locomotives at a time, many running, await load testing.

Currently, measuring air pollution in overburdened neighborhoods at a high enough level of granularity to comprehensively identify hot spots is very difficult and expensive, and beyond the capabilities of most environmental justice and other community organizations.  

However, research published this week shows how this can be done – and that the results are of great value.  A study carried out by MFN member West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP), the Environmental Defense Fund, Aclima, and the University of Texas at Austin using data collected by Google Street View cars produced findings that were concerning and surprising.

Most significantly, the data shows pollution variations within single blocks in Oakland of as high as 5X, and revealed hotspots that were often very persistent and stable.  

The wide range of pollution levels and the persistence of hotspots tells us something else – in many cases workers and residents are being exposed to much higher levels of pollution and hence higher health risks than they or anyone else knows. We need to build on this research to develop the capability of community-based groups to conduct this level of monitoring in overburdened neighborhoods throughout the U.S.  There are children growing up in these neighborhoods who will sooner or later suffer from underdeveloped lungs, asthma, heart disease, cancer, and other health problems.  The sooner we identify and clean up these hot spots, the more people we can save from air pollution’s health effects, misery, and in some cases, premature death.  

To learn more, view the excellent video with commentary by WOEIP founders Margaret Gordon and Brian Beveridge or read the news articles linked below.  For a deeper dive, click the last link to read the entire journal article.

Google collects air pollution data using Street View cars and offers it to scientists, VentureBeat

Google shares Street View pollution maps, Left Lane News

Tracking Air Quality Block By Block, California Healthline

High-Resolution Air Pollution Mapping with Google Street View Cars: Exploiting Big Data, (complete study) Environmental Science and Technology

A Grandson Returns to East L.A. to Fight For Clean Air

Share mark!’s conversation with his grandparents and support the #ZeroEmissionsNow campaign.

mark! Lopez was born into a family of organizers and is driven by an early memory of a community march when he was just a toddler in a stroller. He majored in Environmental Studies and earned a masters degree in Chicano studies and returned to the community where he grew up, to work for Communities for A Better Environment and then East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, where he is now the executive director.

mark! was interviewed by his grandparents, Juana and Ricardo Gutierrez. Here are excerpts from their conversation, which you can hear on StoryCorps.me.

JUANA GUTIERREZ: Cual fue el primer paso que tomaste para convertirte en un agente de cambio en nuestra comunidad y que te motivo para dar ese paso?

JUANA GUTIERREZ: What was the first step you took to become a change agent in your community and what motivated you to take that step?

MARK! LOPEZ: Pues no fue un paso creo que uno de los recuerdos que tengo ni de un ano o dos anos creo fue una marcha. Anduvimos en una marcha en 6th street u otro bridge pero estábamos cruzando y yo andaba en un stroller. Y recuerdo la danza Azteca, el tambor y pues ahí con toda la familia y la comunidad marchando. Y me imagino que fue por el prison, pero ese es uno de mis primer recuerdos de mi vida. Ese recuerdo me motivo y es como un guía para ensenarme que es funcionar en comunidad y creci haciendo este trabajo de la comunidad entonces siempre pense que este era algo normal que tenia que hacer.

MARK! LOPEZ: It was not a step. One of my first memories when I was one or two years old was when we were in a march. This march on 6th street, or another bridge, but we were crossing it and I was in my stroller. I remember the danza Azteca, the drums and being there with family and the community marching. This memory is my motivation and my guide as to how to be part of a community. Since I grew up doing this community work, I thought this was the norm and something I had to do.

RICARDO GUTIERREZ: Puedes compartir un tema importante que estás trabajando y tu visión para un futuro mejor?

RICHARD GUTIERREZ: Can you share one important thing you are working on right now and what your visión for a better future looks like?

MARK! LOPEZ: Pues creo que algo que hemos aprendido mucho en el movimiento el que nosotros tenemos que ser los que luchan, nadien va a venir a nuestro rescate. Entonces por ese nosotros tenemos que tener una visión para lo que queremos. Porque si solo les decimos que no queremos solo van a traer mas ideas que nos afectan y no va ha ser algo de beneficio para la comunidad. Entonces en todo el trabajo que hacemos tenemos que empezar con entender el problema, como nos impacta y averiguar que es lo que podemos hacer, que hay de opciones, que es lo que están haciendo otras comunidades y si no hay ejemplos ver lo que podemos crear o pensar. Entonces eso creo que estamos haciendo con el freeway 710, con la alternativa comunitaria 7, es lo que estamos haciendo al nivel nacional.

En anos pasados quien creía que podíamos tener trocas sin contaminación y ahorita estamos en esa lucha que empieza con nosotros. Las comunidades cerca de los puertos ya tienen muchos anos con mucha contaminación entonces esas platicas, ese movimiento que los puertos para asegurar que los puertos no tengan contaminación en el futuro empieza con nosotros. Como ustedes empezaron a luchar aquí en Boyle Heights y en el este de Los Angeles y yo la siguiente generación de la familia y ahora la generación tercera viendo a Xole y a Luna que vienen después de mi y los demás creo que nos aseguramos que la comunidad va estar en buenas manos.

MARK! LOPEZ: I think one thing we have learned from the movement is that we have to be the ones that fight for ourselves, no one is coming to our rescue. This is why we need to have a vision of what we want. Because if we only tell them what we don’t want they will only bring more projects/ideas that will negatively impact us instead of being a benefit to the community. So in the all the work that we do we must first understand the problem, how it will impact us, and figure out what we can do about it. What are the options, what are other communities doing to fight back and if there are no examples we need to figure it out ourselves. This is what I think we have done with the 710 freeway, with Community Alternative 7. This is also what we are doing at the national level.

Before no one could image we could have trucks without pollution and right now we are in that struggle, but it starts with us. Communities living close to ports have a long history with pollution and its impacts so those conversation around making sure the Ports no longer pollute starts with us. Just like you started the fight here in Boyle Heights and East LA, I am the next generation in my family and now the third generation seeing my daughters Xole and Luna that come after me we are making sure that our community is in good hands.

PLEASE JOIN mark! Lopez and his family in the #ZeroEmissionsNow campaign to reduce diesel emissions in our communities. Share their conversation and show your support.

LEARN MORE about the work they are doing to improve the quality of life in East L.A. by following East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice.

LISTEN to other conversations in our StoryCorps project, with people who are fighting for #ZeroEmissionsNow in their communities across the United States.

Feds propose to measure interstate highway air pollution, freight movement, and more

In an effort to begin managing and improving the performance of our highway transportation system, the U.S. Department of Transportation has proposed that states begin measuring key metrics, including air pollution emissions, reliability, congestion, and freight movement.

This is an important move, because traffic congestion is a huge contributor to air pollution emissions, as well as a major cost to shippers and consumers.

Transportation, including freight transportation, accounts for almost 1/4 of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.  These emissions also cause serious health problems. Traffic related air pollution is linked to a large and growing list of adverse health effects, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cardiovascular disease risk, premature birth and low birth weight, and premature death.

This information will be used to support the U.S. DOT Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program, which supports highway projects that contribute air quality improvements and provide congestion relief, with an emphasis on reducing particulate matter air pollution.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said “The department is taking a major step to improve accountability and address the costly congestion problem that is plaguing our nation every day. Commuters and truck drivers from every state and region will be able to learn valuable information about how transportation investments are performing in delivering reliable highway travel with minimal delays and less air pollution. We are also taking a hard look at how to track progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, and I’m looking forward to what we hear back on this important topic.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, some of the folks who build roads are not keen for outcomes to be measured.  Politico quotes Nick Goldstein, vice president for regulatory affairs with the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, as complaining that “Everybody says they want more infrastructure projects, but they’re constantly throwing more regulatory hurdles in the way,”

For more information, see the news articles or review the notice of proposed rulemaking below.

A new Obama emissions play, Politico
Federal Rule Could Create New National Traffic Data Website, Government Technology
Tracking Carbon Pollution from Transportation Plans, NRDC
Notice of Proposed Rulemaking – National Performance Management Measures; Assessing Performance of the National Highway System, Freight Movement on the Interstate System, and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program, U.S. Department of Transportation

Senator Booker Announces The Environmental Justice Act of 2017

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditOn October 23rd U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) was joined by local community leaders and advocates from across New Jersey and the nation in announcing a landmark bill that represents a major step toward eliminating environmental injustice. This Bill would strengthen protections for communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous communities. […]

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Comite Civico Del Valle honored as a Clean Air Hero

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditMoving Forward Network member Comite Civico Del Valle is being honored with a Clean Air Heroes award today by the South Coast Air Quality Management District for their ground-breaking IVAN Air Monitoring Network, which consists of 40 community-based air quality monitors in selected locations across the Imperial Valley. The award will be accepted […]

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Don't miss this excellent video on trucks, air pollution, and public health

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditThe California Cleaner Freight Coalition (CCFC) just sent us a wonderful video, which includes appearances by leaders and volunteers from several MFN member organizations, including Ms. Margaret Gordon of the West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, Humberto Lugo of Comite Civico Del Valle, Silvia Reyes of the Alliance for Children with Asthma, and […]

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Leonardo DiCaprio joins forces with Comité Cívico Del Valle to expand Salton Sea air quality monitoring

Share Tweet Share +1 RedditTo my knowledge, no organization in the U.S. has achieved as much using citizen science as the Brawley, California community and environmental justice group Comité Cívico Del Valle. Comité Cívico, working with a network of academic, governmental, and other partners, has built a community-based air quality monitoring system consisting of 40 […]

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