Public Lab Research note

How to Set Up a Bucket Brigade

by kgradow1 | June 09, 2020 17:50 09 Jun 17:50 | #23804 | #23804

Adapted from the Bucket Brigade Manual: Take Back Your Air!

Published by Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) in 1998. Republished with permission.

Co-authored by Karen Susag, Schuyler Fishman, Julia May, and Denny Larson

A Bucket Brigade can be as simple as one committed neighbor who raises a couple of hundred dollars for each lab analysis. Or it can be as complex as a ring of Samplers around a refinery or chemical facility supported by a phone tree of Sniffers.

Get Your Neighbors Involved!

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Your Bucket Brigade will be more successful if you can involve your neighbors. The more people available to take samples or alert those who do, the better your chances of getting a good sample during a chemical release. You can also find out if you are experiencing similar health problems or smelling similar odors.

There are two major ways people can get involved: as Sniffers and Samplers. Sniffers are people who don’t have a bucket but have a good nose. Sniffers alrt those who have a bucket - Samplers - when they smell or experience something suspicious. Samplers are people who have been trained to take air samples and have a bucket. Here are some steps you can take to build your bucket brigade:

  • Have a house party and invite your friends and neighbors. If you have an environmental advocacy group in your neighborhood that is active on air quality issues, ask if they will send a representative to come make a presentation. If not, read this manual and share information on your own.
  • Identify the most reliable people to be Sniffers and Samplers. Identify a person to be a Bucket Brigade Coordinator. Make a phone tree and give everyone a copy. When choosing Samplers, use a map to determine who lives in the best location for taking a sample. Example: You might want to have one Sampler upwind and one Sampler downwind of the facility in question
  • The next step is organizing to raise money to build your Buckets and pay for the analysis. You might try to locate a laboratory that would donate or provide the analysis at low cost.
  • Figure out how you will interpret and share the information after you take samples and get your results. How will you act on this information? Example: Call a community meeting, notify the media, or make a presentation at your local public school.

Roles and Responsibilities

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Responsibilities * Alert the Samplers when you think a sample needs to be taken (either because you smell something, see smoke, or have heard there has been a release) * Call the appropriate government agencies to notify them of the problem. * Keep a log or diary of what you experience

Qualities Important for a Sniffer * A good nose * A phone and a motivation to call the Samplers to make sure they get a sample * Willingness to take good notes about what you experience * Company workers who care about community - remember, they are protected by federal whistleblower laws


Responsibilities * Respond quickly to a Sniffer’s alert * Take the air samples and follow QA/QC procedure * Take detailed notes about what you do and experience * Make the necessary phone calls to get the sample analyzed * Store the bucket in your home or place of work

Qualities Important for a Sampler * Lives or works in a location that often receives emissions and odors from an industrial facility * Is home often, usually in town, reachable by telephone, and will return messages * Willing to stand outside and activate the bucket during an industrial accident (but NOT when officials have told people to stay inside, to evacuate, or it is too dangerous to do so) * Able to drop your tasks to take a sample * Has a care and if necessary will drive across town to take a sample

Bucket Brigade Coordinator

The Bucket Brigade coordinator role is filled by one or more individuals. The Bucket Brigade Coordinator is the only individual who changes the bags and sends the samples to the lab. This helps to ensure the credibility of the sample and centralizes the Bucket Brigade. This role could rotate so different individuals are able to take on this responsibility.

The Bucket Brigade Coordinator’s duties include: * Removing the sample bag from the Buckets * Filling out the chain of custody records * Placing a new bag in the bucket * Performing a visual inspection of the Bucket each time used * Sending the bag to lab for analysis - quickly

CAUTION: You should not choose particularly susceptible people as Samplers or Sniffers: pregnant or breastfeeding women, chemically sensitive people with a history of problems due to chemical exposure, and people in generally poor health. And remember, no one should unnecessarily exxpose themselves to dangerous environments. The information is not worth the risk.

ID the Best Place for the Buckets

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If you can afford them, your brigade should consist of several bucket samplers surrounding the industrial site

Sit down with your neighbors, a map of town, and the addresses of concerned people Share your common experiences and determine which parts of town are most impacted *Use your knowledge fo the prevailing wind directions to determine who lives directly downwind of the source. You can also call the National Weather Service in your area to get average data. * Determine which neighborhoods are most affected and choose your preferred locations for the Samplers and the Sniffers. You will also determine where you need to get more of your neighborhood involved. * Try to cover the whole area -- at least one bucket per neighborhood. If you cannot cover all the major neighborhoods, try to find at least one “mobile Sampler,” someone who can dash out at a moment’s notice to take a sampler at the polluter fenceline or an appropriate location. If you can, try to take measurements both upwind and downwind of the facility. That way you can test to see if the smells are coming from your nearby facility and not from another facility further upwind.

Build Your Own Buckets! How much will it cost?

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  • Per bucket: Building the buckets is not too expensive. Materials cost about $200 per bucket. You might need $20-50 in tools to begin
  • Per lab analysis: Performing the analysis is more expensive: Roughly, $250 per sample for most organic and inorganic gases - volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and about $150 extra for sulfur compounds. The lab can run more than one analysis on a sample bag. You will also need to raise some funds to do quality control and quality assurance tests.

Have you used this model in your own community?

Would you be willing to share the story of your bucket brigade?

This is an ongoing project and we would love to hear more about your experiences!

If so, please email Community Technology Fellow Katie Gradowski here or post in the comments!

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