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Bucket Brigade Fights Air Pollution in Iowa

April 16, 2012

Iowa PSR partnered with Clean Air Muscatine (CLAM) to bring Global Community Monitor (GCM) for a weekend training event on April 13, 2012. The “Bucket Brigade” method will enable the residents of Muscatine, Iowa to measure the air contaminants burdening their community. People can take a sample of a (pollution) release as it occurs, to prove their exposure.

“Residents of Muscatine believe their health is affected from breathing polluted air. Our goal is to measure the amount of toxins from nearby industries and connect the dots,” said Dr. Maureen McCue, Director of Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility. According to EPA NAAQS, Muscatine has the poorest air quality in the state.

Grain Processing Corporation (GPC) viewed from the Southend neighborhood’s Musser Park.
Local news correspondent setting up interview near GPC.

The "Bucket Brigade" method uses a simple device, housed inside a bucket that can "grab" and store air samples at the time residents are experiencing intense smells, visuals, and physical effects from the air. The samples are sent on to an EPA accredited laboratory for accurate analysis of 67 VOCs and 20 sulfur compounds. PM 2.5 (and lead +39 heavy metals) will also be sampled and analyzed using a filter device that will be mounted in various locations. Residents are concerned about the concentration of particulates at geographically diverse locations outside of those currently monitored by the DNR.

Training participants learn how to assemble bucket devices.
CLAM director Jessica Brackett displays a bagged sample as it will be sent to the lab for analysis.
Trainees set the timing device on the PM2. Monitor.
Placing the PM2.5 monitor in a volunteer’s yard for a 24-hour sample.

GCM trainer Ruth Breech 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," Breech said. "The Bucket Brigade has been very effective in breaking through this problem." GCM has helped communities across the nation and the globe gain a seat at the bargaining table with local polluters and governments to improve their air quality.

Pollution logs: participants will keep logs to identify smells, feels, and physical responses as they occur.
Displaying his neighborhood map: where residents live in relation to emitting facilities.

Over the two-day training, participants took a “toxic tour” of their community and learned about the health hazards of the various pollutants specific to their area. Many residents were alarmed to learn that their local schools were among the worst rated for air quality in the United States – none of them better than the worst 15th percentile. Many expressed frustration with the economic-political pyramid of power in the area; CLAM has been organized since 2011, but has consistently been ignored and denigrated by local governmental and quasi-governmental boards and commissions. As one participant stated, “Now they can’t ignore us – now we’ll have science and math in these buckets”.


One of the large coal ash dump sites located in Muscatine, Iowa.

GCM trainer Ruth Breech views a coal ash site at another location in Muscatine.

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