New Orleans, LA – Community IMPACT Series: Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Aug. 17, 2010
The sheer scale of the Gulf oil disaster came as a shock to many people around the region. But some of those who closely monitor the petrochemical industry in Louisiana point out that this current crisis didn't just appear from nowhere.
"Something that we notice from working with the refining sector over the past decade is that there are many small accidents that precede the large accident, like the explosion or the massive spill, and it's usually if they had prevented those smaller accidents from happening they could have prevented the larger one also,"
says Anna Hrybyk, program manager for the Louisiana Bucket Brigade.
Louisiana Bucket Brigade is an environmental health and justice organization has long worked with communities neighboring the state's refineries and chemical plants to help them keep tabs on their frequent leaks, spills and discharges. One way they do this is with a tool called "the bucket." This simple, portable, EPA-approved device allows residents to take their own air sample, which can then be sent to a lab for analysis.
The Bucket Brigade says these tools can record what government regulators often miss, since agencies can't always respond fast enough to capture the pollution residents report. Dr. Earthea Nance, a consultant to Louisiana Bucket Brigade, explains the difference this approach can make.
"One of the first things it does for communities is it has a therapeutic effect," says Nance. "It gives them a role in the data collection and an understanding of what they're being exposed to. Secondly it gives them a tool that they can use, maybe for legal action, or they could use it to advocate for better response by the government officials. It puts information in their hands. It allows them to have avenues for protection they wouldn't have otherwise."
Since the oil disaster, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade has been training more community leaders to collect their own air-quality data and advocate for a more thorough environmental response. The group is also helping individuals apply for their own grants to procure more air-testing buckets. Further, Hrybik says the Bucket Brigade is recruiting what she calls "citizen reporters" to assist in monitoring pollution from the oil disaster on a broader scale.
"We've designed a tool called the Oil Spill Crisis Map, you can visit that at oilspill.labucketbrigade.org, and that is a tool that allows citizens to report when they're experiencing impacts of the spill," says Hrybik. "And they can report via text, via e-mail, via Twitter, and also by submitting a report right on the Web site."
By comparing the time and location of these citizen reports with the government's own air quality sampling results, the group hopes to show the need for greater attention to environmental conditions in the region impacted by the oil disaster. Nance says this work also could raise the profile of community-based environmental monitoring as a tool to help address some of Louisiana's long-term pollution issues.
"Now, a lot of people are listening. Not only the ones who were affected before the spill, but the people who are in the vast area affected by the spill, which includes other states beyond Louisiana," says Nance. "This is an opportunity to mobilize all of the effected communities to understand the affects of the oil spill and the legacy affects of being in an industrial zone."