stories from the Public Lab community
During the summer, our fellowship team logged ambient odors on field sheets to accompany data from our gas monitors. As we are closing up the fellowship and looking through the data, we want to know what quality of odors are coming into our community from a nearby landfill - and if there are patterns or trends in the type, frequency or accompanying factors.
In the past, we defined odors like decomposing waste, as "green waste" or "trash," which are subjective descriptors. I was inspired to reduce the odors to their basic components, remembering a toy my daughter loved when she was younger. It was a perfume science lab, wherein you could make fragrances using approximately 6 different base odors (vanilla, lemon, sandalwood, etc).
I identified the base odors that emanate from a nearby landfill:
Odors that we used to describe as "kitchen trash" became, "sweet" and "rot" because those are the primary components of that particular odor. Instead of "wastewater sludge," we described the smell as "fecal" and "ammonia."
With this method, we can enter data into categories on a spreadsheet that we can analyze at a later time:
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Lead Image: Map of industrial facilities in St. James Parish. Found on The Advocate, courtesy of Justin Kray of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade
The St. James parish alongside the Mississippi river in southern Louisiana is a historically black and now elder community with 15.6% of residents living below the poverty line. Many of the residents trace their lineage back to the enslaved families who worked the plantations along the banks of the Mississippi. The land is filled with historic and sacred sights including the unmarked graves of slaves. For years, St. James Parish has been extremely overburdened by industrial pollution. The 258 square miles of St. James hosts no less than 11 industrial facilities that are large enough to be required to report their pollution to the federal EPA each year. These include refineries, a fertilizer plant, a steel company, an asphalt company, and several chemical companies. The list of chemicals emitted into the air, water and soil in St. James and surrounding areas include cancer causing dioxins, asbestos, chlorine, lead, mercury, acids, benzene, toluene, methanol, ethylene, and hydrogen sulfide to name a few (the EPA’s TRI database report for St. James Parish, 2020).
For years, the community, already struggling with extreme pollution, has been fighting to keep out new industry, particularly one plant called Formosa Plastics slated to be a 2,500 acre project just one mile from an elementary school (Center for Biological Diversity). As a company, Formosa has been a historic bad actor (see follow up post on Formosa Around the World). Their Texas plant released “thousands of plastic pellets and other pollutants into Lavaca Bay and other nearby waterways.” These spills were brought to court in a private citizens suit by Dianne Wilson and nonprofit Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid resulting in a $50 million settlement, “the largest in U.S. history involving a private citizen's lawsuit against an industrial polluter under federal clean air and water laws” (Texas Tribune December 3, 2019). Formosa plants around the world have also experienced several explosions causing community evacuations, major chemical releases, and even worker deaths (see follow up post).
On August 18, 2021 the US Army Corps of Engineers announced it would “require a full “environmental impact statement” for the massive petrochemical complex Formosa Plastics proposes to build in St. James Parish, Louisiana. The decision is a major victory for opponents of the plant, who sued to block the project in January 2020 and convinced the Army Corps to suspend its permit” in fall of 2019 (Center for Biological Diversity). An impact statement can take anywhere from 51 days to 3 years to do. For this statement, they’ll be “required to assess the impact of a proposed project on the physical, cultural, and human environments affected by the proposed project… [including] provid[ing] a baseline for understanding the current environmental situation in relation to the Proposed Action.” The EIS should also include air, water, historical and economic impacts of the project (AmericanBar.org). The EIS should also trigger a new comment period for community members.
The aim for this project is to regularly collect particulate matter and other air quality monitoring data to grow the body of evidence on the existing levels of pollution to show the pollution burden already borne by the St. James Parish community. We aim for this information to be used to educate the community, and provide scientific evidence for why further pollution sources such as the Formosa Plastics, should not be developed in this community.
The goals of this project are to:
A: Regularly collect particulate matter air quality monitoring data to grow the body of evidence on the existing levels of pollution to show the burden already borne by the Donaldsonville and St. James Parish communities. We aim for this information to be used to educate the community, and provide scientific evidence for why further pollution sources such as the Formosa Plastics, should not be developed in this community.
B: Regularly share project updates including monitoring methods, tools, challenges, data and questions on Public Lab and in other project identified spaces as appropriate.
C: Work towards advocacy around the air pollution issue in Donaldsonville and St. James Parish by working to understand local permits, zoning, and legal landscape in aim of gathering information for the upcoming Environmental Impact Statement and community input for the open comment period.
D: Work towards project pass off and longevity by focusing on communications materials around the monitoring results, advocacy information, and how people can get involved and monitor. We will use this to put together information sessions, as well as pamphlets and print materials.
Travis London is the cousin to the late Louisiana activist, Alberta Hasten-president of Louisiana Environmental Justice Community Organization Coalition. He has worked alongside Sharon Lavigne, Rise For St James, and a legal team to delay Formosa’s construction in St. James. He has also had victories in organizing in Louisiana for Medicaid expansion, higher salaries for teachers, and halting a compressor station from being too close to a neighborhood. In 2020, Travis appeared on a Netflix series alongside Diane Wilson on the show Dirty Money: Port Comfort episode, where Diane won the largest settlement from an individual lawsuit in environmental history. Alongside his local work, Travis works to help 5 Northeastern states near the Ohio River fight against the Mountaineer NGL project, and has organized for various causes in El Salvador, India, Africa, and other places around the world. Travis London is the 2018 Ascension Parish ICON Award winner and the Louisiana Economic Development’s Business and Fashion Expo Prize Winner.
This Fellowship team is seeking three supporting fellows. See the links below to learn more and apply!
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We are recovering from Hurricane Ida, which hit Grand Isle, Lafourche, Terrebonne, Lower Plaquemines, Grand Isle / Lafitte, LaPlace, St James, and entire the New Orleans area as a powerful Cat 5.
Gulf communities are going need a lot of help in the days and weeks to come, please consider a generous donation to any of these organizations:
"Gulf South for a Green New Deal Community Controlled Fund (GS4GND CCF) promotes just transitions away from extractive practices while dismantling oppressive structures which harm our communities and, ultimately, our ecology. We believe people on and of the land should control what happens to the land; the people of the South must control what happens in the South. This regenerating, community-controlled fund provides resources to foster power and promote togetherness in the region and exists to restore communities and to honor the legacy of strength and resistance in the Gulf South." [ Social media graphics from GCCLP: ]
Zion Travelers Cooperative Center
Imagine Water Works (Click here to donate ) - "Imagine Water Works is reimagining the future through art, science, and human connection. Our core focus areas are water management, climate justice, and disaster readiness and response / mutual aid." Donations are not tax deductible, but if you need to make a tax-deductible donation, email email@example.com.
The United Houma Nation (Click here to donate) - "The United Houma Nation is composed of very proud and independent people who have close ties to the water and land of their ancestors." The Houma community is going to get hit hard by IDA and will need a lot of support in the coming days.
LEAN (Click here to donate) "The purpose of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN) is to foster cooperation and communication between individual citizens and corporate and government organizations in an effort to assess and mend the environmental problems in Louisiana. LEAN's goal is the creation and maintenance of a cleaner and healthier environment for all of the inhabitants of this state."
Waterwise (Click here to donate) - "The mission of Water Wise Gulf South is to empower individuals, neighborhoods, and marginalized communities to manage stormwater, thereby reducing localized flooding and providing many other benefits. We promote community-driven, ecologically-based solutions, known as green infrastructure, to infiltrate, filter, and detain stormwater runoff and improve water quality."
Foundation for Louisiana (Click here to donate) - "Foundation for Louisiana unites philanthropists, committed organizations, and caring residents to address the most critical needs facing Louisiana and our entire country. FFL is a social justice philanthropic intermediary founded in 2005 to invest in the immediate recovery of Louisiana's communities after Hurricane Katrina."
Lowlander Center (Click here to donate) - "The Lowlander Center supports lowland communities and places, both inland and coastal, for the benefit of both people and the environment."
Vessel Project (venmo @vesselprojectla) - Vessel Project "mission is to provide relief for our community, mutual aid and disaster relief. We are vessels of love and we want to project that love onto every person we come in contact with." Vessel Project is based in Lake Charles, LA and working to help families recover from the 2022 hurricane season.
Another Gulf is Possible (Click here to donate) - "We will distribute donations to support vulnerable families and communities impacted by Hurricane Ida. Another Gulf Is Possible has two Just Recovery vehicles ready to provide mutual aid for essential needs, repairs, and supplies." They also have an excellentIda Resource mobilization page.
Southern Solidarity is a grassroots, community-based group of volunteers in solidarity with the unhoused in their quest toward liberation. We organize the delivery of food, medical resources and basic needs directly to the unhoused in the downtown area of New Orleans because the government has not filled this need. We are influenced by anti-imperialist principles and mobilized by a black queer woman. SOLIDARITY NOT CHARITY. Donate here.
Here are a couple articles worth your time today:
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Photo by Junior Walk
Read more about Public Lab Fellowship Teams here
For well over a century the coal industry has exploited the people and natural resources of West Virginia. The technology they have developed over the past four decades specifically has allowed them to destroy and poison the environment to an almost unbelievable extent, all in the name of maximizing profit. Large scale surface mining, also known as mountaintop removal not only deforests thousands of acres per mine site, but completely destroys the landscape leaving behind only bare rock and rubble. The biologically diverse forests that used to set where these mines now exist can never be replaced, the topsoil that allowed them to exist is now buried under valley fills. The bedrock that once formed some of the oldest mountains on the planet is blasted apart and turned into toxic dust clouds that settle on the communities below.
The state regulatory agency, the West Virginia Department of Environmental protection has been in the pocket of the coal industry since its conception. This makes it difficult to hold the industry accountable to the relatively lax environmental laws, but not impossible. Over the years, Coal River Mountain Watch has discovered a handful of methods in the pursuit of chipping away at the profit margins of coal companies. One of the most successful tactics has been in observing, documenting, and monitoring mining activity and reporting on them to the DEP. The intent behind this fellowship team is to support our continued work against the coal industry using drones and other forms of observation to document violations of environmental law, and pressure the DEP to take appropriate action. The fines incurred by the coal company are a pittance and are factored into the cost of doing business.
The main goal of this work is to make the companies pull workers and equipment away from actively mining coal in order to fix the problems they created.
Junior Walk is an environmental activist who lives in Boone county West Virginia. Since 2009 he has worked with various anti-surface mining organizations in the Appalachian region. In that time his work has taken various forms, including lobbying on federal and state levels, gathering data for lawsuits against coal companies, and even getting arrested doing direct action on surface mines and corporate offices. Junior now serves as the outreach coordinator for Coal River Mountain Watch, a role in which he spends his time monitoring coal mines in his community for environmental violations, as well as educating people on the effects surface mining has had on the state of West Virginia.
This Fellowship team is seeking:
This fellow will join the team to work closely with the Community Organizing Fellow to document the project on PublicLab.org and produce videos with materials from the community.
This fellow will join the team to 1) Investigate surface mining permits in West Virginia and create clear documentation around permit statuses. 2) Research state and federal environmental regulations in order to find new and innovative ways to hold the coal mining industry accountable. And 3) Identify tactics that concerned citizens in communities around surface mines can use to document illegal actions and permit violations.
Local Field Technician Fellows
These fellows will join the Community Organizing Fellow on short term basis in the field hiking and act as another set of eyes on the mine sites. These Fellows will also record observations and take photographic evidence of anything concerning around the mining sites.
If you're interested in joining the team as a Local Field Technician Fellow, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Gas-calibrated monitors are a class of air monitoring equipment that use canisters of known quantities of gas(es) to assess and ensure the accuracy of an instrument.
For example, if you have an air quality monitor that measures sulfur dioxide (SO2), you measure the operation of the SO2 sensor with a canister that has a lab-certified quantity of SO2. A gas-calibrated instrument is typically calibrated every 60-90 days, depending on usage. These instruments also need to be bump tested -- bump tests check the device's accuracy before each use. A dedicated calibration station is a must when using these instruments.
Through this technology, we are monitoring airborne:
Because the monitors are calibrated and bump tested regularly, they are highly accurate. Unfortunately, they are time-consuming, complicated, and costly, making them a challenging choice for community science AQ monitoring.
Additionally, because they are handheld, data collection requires personnel in the field to record data. These monitors have a photoionization lamp that gets hot and can overheat during hot summer temperatures. When the ambient temperature is too high, the instruments shut off automatically to protect them from overheating. They also do not have the ability to record GPS data, so geospatial mapping has been challenging. These are all problems we are working on minimizing and we welcome input from the Public Lab community.
The benefit of using gas-calibrated monitors is that when they are serviced properly, you can accurately test for singular airborne pollutants.
As a side note, VVAMP is moving toward installing Purple Air sensors, as fire season is here in SoCal. Purple Air sensors do not monitor gases, but particulate matter. Follow our progress here!
VVAMP is monitoring ambient air gases adjacent to a massive landfill in Los Angeles County. The town of Val Verde is one of the communities affected by the proximity to the landfill. The Newhall Ranch community, which is currently in development, will also be affected. The issues with siting the landfill in this location are that it is located near a historic environmental justice community, and away from the population center of Los Angeles which it serves. The trucks that transport waste to the landfill from waste sorting facilities use diesel fuel that contributes to particulate pollution to communities sited near the I-5 and elsewhere. Los Angeles County has a county-owned, waste-by-rail facility that is permitted, yet unused. The county has instead relied on privately owned landfills for waste management.
Los monitores de gas calibrado son un tipo de equipo para monitoreo de aire que usa latas / bote / frasco de cantidades conocidas de gas o gases para evaluar y asegurar la precisión de un instrumento.
Por ejemplo, si tú tienes un monitor de calidad de aire que mide dióxido de azufre (SO2), tú mides el funcionamiento del sensor de SO2 con un frasco que tiene la cantidad de SO2 certificada por un laboratorio. Un instrumento de gas calibrado se calibra típicamente cada 60-90 días, dependiendo del uso. Estos instrumentos también necesitan una prueba funcional. Las pruebas funcionales verifican la precisión del dispositivo antes de cada uso. Una estación de calibración bien dedicada es una necesidad cuando se usan estos instrumentos.
A través de esta tecnología, estamos monitoreando gases llevados por el aire:
Porque estos monitores son calibrados y probados funcionalmente regularmente, son muy precisos. Desafortunadamente, consumen mucho tiempo, son complicados, y costosos, siendo una elección desafiante para la ciencia comunitaria de monitoreo de calidad de aire.
Adicionalmente, porque son portátiles, la colección de datos requiere personal de campo para recuperar y juntar los datos. Estos monitores tienen una lámpara de fotoionización que se pone muy caliente y se pueden sobre calentar durante las temperaturas calientes de verano. Cuando la temperatura ambiente es muy alta, los instrumentos se apagan automáticamente para proteger el equipo y evitar el sobrecalentamiento. Los instrumentos, también no tienen la habilidad de grabar puntos GPS, así que el mapeo geoespacial ha sido desafiante. Estos son los problemas que estamos trabajando para minimizar y estamos abiertos a sugerencias de parte de la comunidad de Laboratorio Publico.
El beneficio de usar monitores de gas calibrado es que cuando se preparan apropiadamente, tú puedes hacer testeos precisos para un contaminante llevado por el aire en específico.
Como nota aparte, VVAMP está avanzando con la instalación de sensores de "Aire morado", la temporada de incendios está acá en el sur de California. Sensores de "Aire morado" no monitorean gases, pero sí material particulado. ¡Sigue nuestro progreso acá!
VVAMP está monitoreando gases en el aire del ambiente local adyacente a un relleno sanitario masivo en el condado de Los ángeles. El pueblo de Val Verde es una de las comunidades afectadas por la proximidad del relleno. La comunidad del Rancho de Newhall, que actualmente está en desarrollo, estará también afectada. Los problemas de la ubicación del relleno sanitario, es que está ubicado cerca de una comunidad histórica de justicia ambiental, y afuera de la población central de Los Ángeles a la que sirve. Los camiones que transportan desechos hacia el relleno sanitario desde las instalaciones de clasificación usan gasolina diesel que contribuye a la contaminación de partículas en las comunidades situadas cerca de la carretera I-5 y otras partes. El condado de Los Ángeles es dueño, y tiene el permiso para transportar desechos por ferrocarril, y aun así no se usa. El condado en vez depende de rellenos sanitarios de propiedad privada para la gestión de residuos.
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The Board of Directors of the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) is very excited to announce its new Executive Director, Jordan Macha. She began her position in this role on April 19, and is succeeding Public Lab co-founder and founding Executive Director Shannon Dosemagen, who departed in 2020.
Macha brings deep experience in community building and leadership in the environmental justice field to Public Lab. In her recent position as Executive Director of Bayou City Waterkeeper, Macha helmed efforts with community partners on wetlands protection and clean water advocacy. As a founding member of the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience, her team partnered with community leaders and diverse organizations focusing on Hurricane Harvey and flood recovery in the Greater Houston area, encouraging the region to adopt equitable resiliency models to holistically serve its residents. Through her previous work with Healthy Gulf and the Sierra Club, Macha advanced coastal restoration and clean energy priorities across the Gulf region. She received her Master's of Public Administration with an emphasis on Coastal & Urban Water Management and Policy from Texas State University.
"I am honored to have the opportunity to lead the community and staff of Public Lab," says Jordan Macha. "Building on the tremendous momentum of the last eleven years, Public Lab is well-equipped to develop its vision to advance community science and empower knowledge producers to make positive change. I'm excited to join the incredible team of staff, volunteer leaders, and diverse community partners working to make impactful environmental change worldwide."
"The Public Lab Board of Directors is proud to welcome Jordan Macha to this leadership role at such a crucial moment for community advocacy to advance environmental justice," says Board of Directors chairperson Janet Haven. "Her career is proof of an unwavering support for the protection and empowerment of communities, and the board looks forward to Jordan's experience, passion, and leadership shaping the future of our work together."
Macha was influential in the Resilient Houston Plan in incorporating natural infrastructure and equitable nature-centered solutions into its Living with Water strategy, working to future-proof the region's water systems by improving its wastewater facilities and championing policies to protect wetlands and floodplains. She currently serves as the Harris County representative for the H-GAC Natural Resources Advisory Committee, and the environmental representative for the Texas Water Development Board's Region 3 Flood Planning Group. Partnering with Harris County, Jordan and her partners are working with county leadership to embrace an equity-centric and holistic approach to flooding, furthering the advancement of comprehensive, intersectional projects that put people over profits and embrace nature-based solutions.
Shannon Dosemagen notes of the announcement, "I'm thrilled to welcome Jordan to Public Lab. I believe she is the right person to lead the organization into its second decade, building on our legacy of supporting communities in using science and open technology to support their environmental goals."
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