Bucket Brigades fighting for clean air -fighting for environmental justice as community air monitoring reveals toxic compounds in NM towns.

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By Jeff Potter and Juan Reynosa

The highlight of the February 2013 Central Group Sierra Club ‘N Beer was the presentation Juan Reynosa gave about the Bucket Brigade program underway through the SouthWest Organizing Project (SWOP.) Juan had worked for the Rio Grande chapter in the Beyond Coal campaign before moving to SWOP. He related his experience growing up in the oil patch Hobbs and the overarching principle of SWOP, namely, seeking environmental justice for low-income communities in New Mexico from effects of industry in their neighborhoods. He described three communities in the state that are fighting back. The following is an excerpt from a February 2013 report in SWOP’s newsletter El Grito (reprinted with permission)

These “bucket brigades” have been used around the country as an affordable way to sample air quality. The Bucket Brigade program empowers people in those communities to collect data to test whether they are getting guaranteed protection from harmful industrial byproducts or toxic particles and chemicals. The air samples are collected with “buckets”, which are easy-to-assemble units that collect air samples which can then be shipped off to a lab for testing. The citizens taking the samples mimic the scientific methods in order to maintain the integrity of the samples. Some are also using particulate monitors which collect and analyze particles, as opposed to gases.

Community members from across New Mexico have been collecting air samples over the past few months to determine what exactly is in the air they’re breathing and if there are any elements that could cause health issues. Families from Mesquite, the San Jose neighborhood of Albuquerque, and the Four Corners region of the state have begun to receive analysis results from their air samples. Each of the three locations includes large or densely concentrated industrial facilities within long-standing New Mexico communities. Some of the sample results have given cause for concern.

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that have been identified include Toluene, which may affect the nervous system; Carbonyl Sulfide, which can be fatal when inhaled in high concentration; Chlorobenzene, which can damage the liver and kidneys; and a variety of particulate matter that has been linked to lung disease and cancer. A consulting scientist working with SWOP, Dr. Chernaik, said “elemental carbon levels in the San Jose neighborhood are “one of the highest levels” he’s seen.”

Chernaik’s results are not overly surprising to Esther Abeyta, a resident of the San Jose neighborhood who has been trying to bring attention to health issues in her community for years. She cited a health impact assessment done by the Bernalillo County Place Matters team that showed high rates of heart disease, cancer and other conditions in San Jose.

Abeyta said the bucket monitoring has been useful for knowing what she and others are up against. “Doing the bucket brigade has really helped me to see what chemicals we’re breathing in,” she said. …”I never knew that odor that’s being emitted is a volatile organic compound so we had to educate ourselves on what we’re dealing with. Every Tuesday morning there are about ten trains idling. I’m also concerned about the other odors that we’re smelling, how do they affect the organs of the human body.”

Read the complete story : El Grito.