To 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 monitors spread across the sprawling and dangerously polluted Imperial Valley; the IVAN environmental reporting system, which allows citizens to document and report environmental problems; a task force that follows up on the problems that citizens report, and much more.
The result? Empowered, knowledgeable, and engaged residents who are committed to make their community a better and healthier place, and have the tools to do it.
Last week, Comité Cívico gained a new ally – Leonardo DiCaprio, who announced that his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation will donate $100,000 to install and operate 20 new air monitors to monitor deadly chemical-laden particulate matter blowing from the rapidly drying Salton sea – perhaps the biggest environmental health challenge the region faces.
Also last week, perhaps inspired by Comité Cívico’s successes, the California State Legislature passed a bill, AB 617, which authorizes the deployment of community air monitoring systems in polluted communities across the state.
Knowledge is power, and Leonardo DiCaprio’s support will help empower the residents of the Imperial Valley to fight for one of the most fundamental human rights – clean air to breathe.
To learn more about community-based air monitoring, join members of Comite Civico and dozens of other MFN organizations at the FREE 4th International Conference, and check out the references at the end of this post.
How community air monitoring projects provide a data-driven model for the future (Environmental Defense Fund)
In California’s Imperial Valley, Residents Aren’t Waiting for Government to Track Pollution, Yes Magazine
Advancing Environmental Justice: A New State Regulatory Framework to Abate Community-Level Air Pollution Hotspots and Improve Health Outcomes (Goldman School of Public Policy)
CALIFORNIA’S AB 617: A NEW FRONTIER IN AIR QUALITY MANAGEMENT…IF FUNDED (Center for Clean Air Policy)
Come to the free 4th international conference of the Moving Forward Network conference in Carson CA, and network and learn with some of the top environmental justice organizers in the country, plus enjoy exciting and informative speeches by Hong Kong environmental leader Christine Loh, mark! Lopez of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Ed Avol of the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine, and Fred Potter of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters
To learn more and sign up for the conference, click here or on the image below.
Graphic adapted from an AFL-CIO poster.
Are you an organizer in the goods movement industry or do you work as a port or warehouse worker, or as a truck driver? Are you concerned about freight transportation and warehouse worker health and safety?
The Moving Forward Network shares your concerns and invites you to join us at our international conference on October 13-14 in Carson, California, and participate in the Worker and Labor track, which will focus on the impacts of freight transport, goods movement systems, and related air pollution on workers and the workforce, and how labor unions, organizations, and coalitions are connecting to build power.
Received on Friday from the Union of Concerned Scientists:
Since last week, we at the Union of Concerned Scientists have been working to provide reliable, science-based information about storm preparedness and flood risk to people in the path of Hurricane Harvey’s destruction.
We have worked and developed close relationships in this region, and we believe it’s our human duty to do what we can right now–not just for our partners, supporters, friends, and family in the Gulf Coast but for everyone affected.
For several years, UCS has worked hand in hand with an organization called Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (T.E.J.A.S.). With them, we have analyzed the risks to communities living near industrial facilities and provided information in an accessible form to residents. We brought together science experts and Houston community members to raise awareness about environmental justice issues and provide greater scientific support to efforts to mitigate some of the very same risks people in Houston are facing now as flood waters breach chemical facilities and refineries that line the Gulf Coast.
T.E.J.A.S. is in it for the long haul. Recovery from this disaster will take years, and poor communities and communities of color will bear the greatest burden. So today I’m writing to encourage you to make a donation to support T.E.J.A.S. to help in the recovery efforts.
T.E.J.A.S. has always been clear about the connections between global warming, increased flooding, race, and poverty. Last year we collaborated on a report, Double Jeopardy in Houston(1), showing how people of color and people in poverty live closer to chemical facilities and face the greatest chemical risks. And now, over the past few days more than a million pounds of emissions from the oil refineries and chemical plants that border their communities have been released into the Houston air(2). Meanwhile, the city has shut down its chemical monitoring stations as floodwaters rise, leaving residents without a critical safeguard(3) and explosions at chemical facilities have already been reported(4).
We will continue to see these things happen around the world. Global warming’s consequences are well understood: rising ocean temperatures can cause more intense hurricanes(5), and higher sea levels cause devastating storm surges(6). Even as we speak, massive floods in South Asia have caused more than 1,000 deaths (7). People in many parts of the world are suffering, dying, or losing their homes and businesses because of the effects of global warming. Entire communities are being abandoned because of it.
Please help the people most impacted by Hurricane Harvey and our partner organization in Houston with a donation today. If you are interested in helping other hard hit, under-resourced groups, you can find a list of small scale organizations here.
Thank you for your generosity during this catastrophe. UCS will continue to support our partners engaged in recovery efforts and to ensure that people on the ground have access to the scientific information they need to handle this crisis.
Kathleen Rest, PhD, MPA
P.S. Feel free pass along these resources:
- As Arkema plant burns, six things we know about petrochemical risks in the wake of Harvey.
- What’s the connection between climate change and Hurricane Harvey?
- Flooding from storms can place people at risk of drowning, contaminate water, cause sewage systems to overflow, and create mold–what you need to know.
- Central Gulf Coast’s electric grid is exposed to inundation from such a storm.
science-and-democracy/ connecting-scientists-and- communities/double-jeopardy
rundown/exxonmobil-texas- refineries-damaged-hurricane- harvey-release-thousands- pounds-pollutants-air
warming/science_and_impacts/ impacts/hurricanes-and- climate-change.html
world/2017/aug/30/mumbai- paralysed-by-floods-as-india- and-region-hit-by-worst- monsoon-rains-in-years
Is your city allowing developers to build schools, housing, and day care centers near busy highways? Because of the health risks of living close to a highway can be high, this is a very dangerous practice.
Even in Los Angeles, where California law makes it illegal to build a school within 500 free of a busy highway, and officials warn against building homes and daycare centers within that pollution zone, tens of thousands of homes have been built dangerously close to highways in the last few years.
The health risks of traffic-related air pollution are serious. Traffic-related air pollution is known to cause cancer, cardiovascular disease, and to trigger asthma attacks.
In addition, though causality has not been in many cases been proven, traffic-related air pollution been linked to a number of other health problems in adults, some very serious. Examples include atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries), Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, cognitive decline, reduction in brain volume, congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, dementia, cardiovascular diseases, and strokes, high blood pressure, premature death, respiratory disease, and suicide.
In children, traffic-related air pollution has been linked to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression, autism and autism spectrum disorder, birth defects, brain cancer, impulsivity and emotional problems, insulin resistance & diabetes, leukemia, low birth weight, lupus, lung damage and other respiratory problems, mental illness, obesity, preterm birth, and reduced intelligence.
The cause of these problems? Traffic-related air pollution contains dozens of toxins, including particulate matter and nitrogen oxides and as many as 40 other toxins from diesel exhaust, and carbon monoxide, toluene, and benzene from automobiles.
How close is too close? Scientists cannot yet answer that question authoritatively, but there are indications that health risks are very high within 500 feet of a major highway – and even double that distance is not safe.
For example, studies have found increased respiratory health problems in children who live or go to school within 100 meters (~330 feet) of a busy roadway, with the greatest risks appearing in the first 50 meters (~165 feet).
For adults, those living:
close to densely trafficked roads were at a far higher risk of stroke and dementia than those who lived farther away, and
within 1,500 feet of the highway were likely to have 14 percent more C-reactive protein in their blood than those who lived more than a half-mile away. Higher amounts of the protein indicate a higher likelihood of a stroke or heart attack.
Are there things you can do to protect yourself even if you can’t move to a home in a safer location? Yes, the Lancet reports that your government can cut particulate matter in neighboring communities in half by installing noise barriers and vegetation along the highway, and you can reduce the amount that gets into your home by attaching filters to your and air conditioning systems. These measures won’t solve the problem, but they can reduce the levels of air pollution you inhale, and lower your health risks.
You can make your city safer. Protect yourself and your community by educating your public officials on the health risks of near roadway pollution and demand that they put measures in place to protect you and your children.
To learn more about what you can do, come to the free 4th International Moving Forward Network Conference on October 13-14. This is a rare opportunity, so if you would like to help your family and community, sign up today!
For more background on this subject, see these resources:
New evidence of the dangers of living near highways, Boston Globe
Living Near Highways and Air Pollution, American Lung Association
New studies cast dark cloud over air pollution, The Lancet
The invisible hazard afflicting thousands of schools, The Center for Public Integrity
Photo: CHRIS JORDAN-BLOCH / EARTHJUSTICE
Many of the effects of diesel exhaust and other traffic-related air pollution are known and widely accepted – including cancer, cardiovascular disease, and triggering of asthma attacks. In addition, studies have shown that the more air pollution a person is exposed to, the more likely they are to suffer from many other maladies and illnesses, including premature birth, autism, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, and cognitive decline.
To top it off, a study of 60 million adults release just a couple of weeks ago shows that Particulate matter air pollution kills many elderly people in the U.S., even at levels the EPA considers ‘safe’.
And study after study has shown that the people most often subjected to high levels of air pollution are disproportionally poor and non-white.
Residents of West Oakland, California know all of this from first-hand experience. Residents of this port community, who are predominately black and Latino, are exposed to much more air pollution than richer and whiter residents just a few miles away. West Oakland has 90 times more diesel pollution per square mile on average than the rest of California, resulting in high levels of asthma and other diseases known or suspected to be caused by air pollution.
After fighting for decades to make their communities safer and being ignored all too often by local government, West Oakland residents have made it clear they are not going to take it anymore. In April, Moving Forward Network members West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project (WOEIP) and Earthjustice teamed up to file a federal civil rights complaint demanding that the Federal government provide them the same levels of protection as people in whiter, richer communities, specifically when making decisions concerning the Port of Oakland the Oakland Army Base redevelopment project.
“Time and time again, both the city and port have dismissed the consistent input and opposition to their actions from directly impacted West Oakland residents, nearly 80 percent of whom are people of color,”
The complaint says the city has engaged in a “pattern of neglect and systemic disregard” for the health and well being of West Oakland residents, which will only get worse as the city redevelops the former Oakland Army base. And, it alleges the port’s continuous expansion of maritime activities has consistently failed to incorporate adequate measures to mitigate the elevated pollution levels. The complaint asked that the two Federal agencies that provide the funds and approvals for port projects put measures in place to protect them.
This week, the agencies sent this letter to the City and Port of Oakland stating that they will investigate the complaint.
For more information, check out the resources below, and stay tuned for more news as it develops.
Community group alleges civil rights violations by the city and port of Oakland in complaint to Federal government, Earthjustice
When pollution discriminates: Feds to investigate alleged civil rights violations in West Oakland, Mercury News
A study of over 60 million American seniors recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that long-term exposure to particulate matter air pollution raises the risk of premature death of people over 65 years of age, even at levels well below U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.
In urban areas, diesel exhaust is one of the main sources of particulate matter, along with coal-fired power plants.
“We are now providing bulletproof evidence that we breathing harmful air. It is very strong compelling evidence that currently, the safety standards are not safe enough.” Francesca Dominici, co-director of the Harvard Data Science Initiative.
The study, “Air Pollution and Mortality in the Medicare Population”, found that the risks of premature death were highest in men, low-income elders, and blacks, with blacks having mortality risks three times higher than the general population.
The study authors reported that lowering particulate matter air pollution in the U.S. by just 1 microgram per cubic meter would save 12,000 lives per year. The current EPA annual average health standard for P.M. 2.5 is 12 micrograms per cubic meter.
Joel Schwartz, Harvard University professor of environmental epidemiology and the study’s senior author said “This study shows that although we think air quality in the United States is good enough to protect our citizens, in fact we need to lower pollution levels even further.”
To learn more, check out the excellent NPR audio news report or other references below.
Study: Even Low-Level Air Pollution Kills the Elderly, Medpage Today
60-Million-Strong Study Shows Clear Link Between Exposure To Air Pollution & Premature Death, CleanTechnica
Air Pollution and Mortality in the Medicare Population, New England Journal of Medicine
Photo: Edited image from the Village Voice