The “bucket” is a low-cost, community-friendly air sampler that helps people measure toxic chemicals such as benzene and hydrogen sulfide in their air. Developed in the late 1990s, it was one of the first (if not the very first) do-it-together environmental monitors. Communities living near oil refineries and petrochemical plants gathered to build their own buckets. They established phone trees to make sure that, when noxious fumes enveloped their neighborhood, someone would take a sample.
Twenty years later, buckets continue to be a critical tool for fenceline communities impacted by oil and gas development. They test for chemicals like benzene, hydrogen sulfide, perchloroethylene, and vinyl chloride, as well as other volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and sulfur compounds. Above all, they allow communities to take control of their air. Think a bucket could be the right tool for you? Keep reading!
This toolkit was developed in collaboration with South Durban Community Environmental Alliance, groundWork, Citizen Science Community Resources, and Fair Tech Collective. It is is based on resources generously shared by Communities for a Better Environment and Global Community Monitor. We are especially grateful to South Durban Community Environmental Alliance and groundWork for documenting their processes and expertise.
Overview: Why this tool?
Empowering people to act on air pollution
Community air monitoring empowers people to act on air pollution. [I]t enables community members to become active participants in the production of scientific knowledge. It provides them with a tool to scientifically verify existing community knowledge based on their experience of industrial pollution while adding a more specific and systematic dimension to that knowledge. It thus demystifies science. - "Purpose of Community Air Monitoring," groundWork 2003 Air Monitoring Report
Addressing the health impacts of petrochemical production
It is nearly impossible to understand what it is like to fall ill and be deathly sick each day when they start fracking and other production activities on your land, until you get sick. It is hard to comprehend the helplessness that you feel when your water has been tainted, your children are having nosebleeds and you are passing out in your home from the fumes, until it happens. These are not fairy tales or horror stories. They are real. - April Lane, quoted in "Warning Signs" by Coming Clean and Global Community Monitor
Mobilizing Action through Community Science
Buckets are one tool we have trusted, it’s one tool we believe in, one tool we will never abandon. It has empowered us, it has empowered the communities that we work with, it has made our city shake, and our industry shake, because of the credible result coming out of using the bucket. - Bongani Mthembu, South Durban Community Environmental Alliance
How to build a bucket monitor
Learn about the materials you will need to build a bucket monitor and where you can find them. We will also take you step-by-step through the building process and ways to troubleshoot your bucket. Click Here to download the manual for building your own Bucket Air Quality Monitor, and click here to purchase a Bucket Kit from the Public Lab Store!
How to take a sample with a bucket monitor
Find out how to use your bucket monitor to get the most accurate and relevant data for you. We will take you through how to pick a location, how to manually take a sample, and how to get the sample ready for lab analysis.
Finding a lab
Once you have your sample, you'll need to send it to a lab for analysis. We'll explain how to find a lab and what to expect from your interaction with them.
How to use your bucket data
Learn how to go from numbers to a persuasive message about the pollution in your community and what to do about it.
Who else is involved?
Bucket monitoring data has helped communities reduce pollution, get enforcement action, and push for new legislation. Learn more here about others experiences using buckets to make change.
- SDCEA: Toxic City, Smells that Kill
- Coming Clean / GCM: Warning Signs, Toxic Air Pollution Identified at Oil and Gas Sites
- Louisiana Bucket Brigade: The Bucket, Why Monitoring Matters
- CBE: How to Start a Bucket Brigade
- Statistics for Action: Air Quality Guide
- Air Alliance Houston: Community Air Quality Toolkit
Activities should include a materials list, costs and a step-by-step guide to construction with photos. Learn what makes a good activity here.
Have you used the bucket?
If you have used buckets in your own work and want to be part of this project, please email Community Technology Fellow Katie Gradowski here. We view this as a living document and are eager to collaborate with past and present users.
Are you interested in following along in the project? Subscribe to the tag below to get updates when we post new material.