Citizen scientists win big in upstate New York

Citizen scientists win big in upstate New York


[MUSIC]
NARRATOR: THERE ARE MANY WAYS TO MAKE YOUR COMMUNITY A SAFER PLACE. ONE WAY IS THROUGH
CITIZEN SCIENCE. RESIDENTS AND COMMUNITY GROUPS COLLECT DATA TO BETTER UNDERSTAND THEIR LOCAL
ENVIRONMENT AND ADDRESS ISSUES OF CONCERN. THE U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
COLLABORATES WITH THESE CITIZEN SCIENTISTS TO REDUCE POLLUTION IN TONAWANDA, NEW YORK. THE CLEAN AIR
COALITION IS TRACKING THE QUALITY OF TONAWANDA’S AIR. Erin Heaney: Our organization was founded
by people who believe that the chronic illness in their neighborhood was linked to the 53
industrial plants in their neighborhood. So in Tonawanda, New York, we have 53 air polluters
within a two-mile radius, and so there were strong odors, lots of smoke, but residents
didn’t know what they were being exposed to. And so, the first monitoring that we did in
that neighborhood tested for volatile organic compounds to see what was being emitted from
factories. So, we went out and took a three minute grab sample
to see what folks were exposed to, and what it showed is that there were extremely high
levels of benzene in the neighborhood; formaldehyde as well, but the benzene levels were just
off the charts. And people reacted very strongly to that. Some people were shocked, others
were angry, other people didn’t want to see it, didn’t, you know, were kind of in denial,
but the, the community group that formed around this data took the data to both the Department
of Environmental Conservation and the Environmental Protection Agency and said, “We really need
you to back up our data, we need you to come in and certify that what we’ve done is correct
and we need you to take action.” And so, as a result of the bucket sampling
in Tonawanda, EPA provided funds to the Department of Environmental Conservation to complete
a year-long air quality study in the neighborhood and so four permanent air monitors were actually
installed in Tonawanda that measured the air for a year. It was really comprehensive, it was
able to count for wind patterns and it tested again for volatile organic compounds. When
that study was finished, it confirmed what the residents had found in the buckets
years before, that the benzene levels were actually 75 times higher than what the New York
State Department of Health considers a safe exposure limit.
It also showed that there were five other hazardous air pollutants that exceeded state
and federal guidelines, and so that information gave the community information with which
to advocate for enforcement action and for stronger regulations in the neighborhood.
NARRATOR: THE WORK OF THE CLEAN AIR COALITION LED TO A SERIES OF ENFORCEMENT ACTIONS BY
EPA AND NEW YORK STATE TO BRING THE TONAWANDA COKE FACILITY — A MAJOR POLLUTER IN THE AREA
— INTO COMPLIANCE WITH FEDERAL AND STATE REGULATIONS. THE COMPANY ULTIMATELY AGREED
TO IMPROVE ITS OPERATIONS, MONITOR FOR LEAKS AND UPGRADE POLLUTION CONTROLS. THESE ACTIONS
ARE HELPING TO SLASH BENZENE EMISSIONS FROM THE FACILITY BY AT LEAST TWO-THIRDS. IN MARCH
2013, THE TONAWANDA COKE COMPANY AND ONE OF ITS EXECUTIVES WAS FOUND GUILTY OF CRIMINAL
CHARGES FOR POLLUTING THE AIR AND THE GROUND AT THE FACILITY. WHAT BEGAN AS A COMMUNITY EFFORT TO ASSESS
AIR QUALITY IN TONAWANDA HAS RESULTED IN REDUCED AIR POLLUTION AND AN IMPORTANT EPA LEGAL VICTORY
OVER A POLLUTING COMPANY. [MUSIC]

Comments

  1. Post
    Author
    ActivistVictor

    Another good way to participate in citizen science is through boinc, a platform you run on your computer that downloads tasks, processes them, and then returns them to the sender. On the topic of pollution, the world community grid project has a sub project which is trying to find clean energy alternatives, so if you want an easy way to help, that is a good option. Know I get no personal benefit from saying this. I just want to spread the word on a video with a related topic.

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