Marathon Neighbors Launch “Bucket Brigade” Air Monitoring Project to Target Tar Sands Expansion and Asphalt Plant

Posted: August 4, 2009

Detroit, Michigan – Marathon refinery neighbors, over burdened by toxic pollution will bring in a team of international pollution busters, the Global Community Monitor, to learn how to measure contamination themselves. The Sierra Club Environmental Justice Project will be organizing Detroit residents to participate in the training and testing.

“Residents of Southwest Detroit believe their health is affected from breathing toxic air from nearby industries, but we want to take action to measure it ourselves and connect the dots,” said Dolores Leonard of Southwest Detroit. “We’re especially concerned about the new Marathon tarsands expansion and related asphalt plant increasing the burden we already bear.”

On Saturday, August 1, 2009, volunteers will participate in training on how to obtain their own air samples starting at 10:00 am at the Delray Neighborhood House, 420 Leigh Street, Detroit, MI 48209. The new Bucket Brigade members will be going back to the neighborhoods near Marathon to obtain their samples and begin gathering evidence in support of their campaigns to reduce harmful local pollution. Marathon is undergoing an expansion to process heavy tarsands crude oil from Canada that could increase pollution and accidents at the refinery.

The "Bucket Brigade" is a simple, but effective, tool that dozens of communities have used, and are using, to find out for themselves what chemicals are in the air. Armed with their own data and information about the health effects of chemicals, these communities are winning impressive reductions of pollution, safety improvements and increasing enforcement of environmental laws.

The "Bucket Brigade" is named for an easy to use air sampling device housed inside a 5 gallon plastic bucket, not unlike the ones janitors use for mopping floors. The "Bucket" was developed in Northern California in 1995 by an environmental engineering firm to simplify and reduce the costs of widely accepted methods used for testing toxic gases in the air. This plastic bucket is now becoming an essential tool to help communities clean up air pollution.

The idea originated in 1995 with Edward Masry, the attorney who worked with environmental activist Erin Brockovich. Angry about a release of toxic fumes from an oil refinery in Contra Costa County, Calif., he sought a way for ordinary people to document air pollution. The result: a user-friendly device, housed inside a bucket that can "grab" and store air samples for analysis.

"The Global Community Monitor took this idea of simplifying environmental sampling and has developed a whole tool kit of methods to test for particulate pollution, heavy metals and a wide range of toxins," said Denny Larson, who will be conducting the Detroit workshop. The Global Community Monitor has traveled throughout the United States, Africa and Asia, teaching neighborhood groups how to battle pollution. "This system is the environmental equivalent of a crime watch program. People can take a sample of a (pollution) release as it occurs, to prove their exposure."

He said this can help hold companies accountable for chemicals that escape beyond the boundaries of their operations. "There's no requirement that they install monitoring systems at the fence line or in nearby neighborhoods," Larson said. "The Bucket Brigade has been very effective in breaking through this problem."

“This is exactly what we have been looking for”, said Sidney Bishop of the Delray Neighborhood House. “We suspect that the air quality around schools is not suitable for children to play and learn, but now we will have proof! We can also give neighbors and youth the tools they need to do something about the polluted air.”