Bucket brigades were trained in the Fort McKay and Three Creeks areas in
Alberta this week to collect air samples to monitor pollution.
in these areas say the provincial government hasn't taken adequate
action to eliminate the pollutants they say are sickening people and
of communities have used the bucket brigade technique since 1995, when
the humble bucket was turned into a cheap, effective testing tool. A bag
made of specialized plastic inside the 19-litre bucket holds the air
sample, which is then shipped to an independent lab to be tested for
dozens of chemicals. This is different than relying on government or
industry monitoring, which tends to use permanent stations geared to
test for only a few hand-picked chemicals.
type of monitoring that's done by governments, although valuable, is
about discovering general air trends for large areas, said Denny Larson,
executive director of Global Community Monitor, a U.S.-based,
non-profit environmental justice and human rights organization.
not suited to measuring what's going on in what he calls "hot spots" --
populated zones where the pollution tends to be the worst.
Community Monitor developed a system to help people organize their
observations about pollution into credible scientific evidence, said
Larson, who arrived in Edmonton on Tuesday after travelling to Fort
McKay and Three Creeks over the last few days.
brigades are taught a system of documenting environmental exposures,
including things as simple as keeping log sheets of pollution events.
"We use chain of custody forms, just like an environmental regulator or a
consultant or a government inspector would use," said Larson.
have literally replicated the official regulatory government legal
processes in every case, and we've just trained the community to use
those same processes, from the paperwork to the protocols. In fact, we
spent a year with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doing
side-by-side testing and developing the protocols to ensure the
scientific and legal credibility of the bucket brigade ... ."
evidence collected gives the communities the leverage they need to
demand action. "It's been used in hundreds of court cases," Larson said.
"However, in every single case the company has settled prior to going
to trial, which is evidence of the power of the bucket."
has been to 27 countries in the last 15 years doing this type of work
and considers the weak regulations in Alberta "a shameful situation." He
said a report on the results should be ready by mid-January.
Cooper, spokesman for Alberta Environment, said the department would be
interested in seeing details of how the organization collects its
sampling. Accurate and reliable air monitoring is a complex and delicate
process, he said.
acknowledged issues in both areas, but listed actions taken by the
government to address them. Overall air quality was good in Fort McKay
99 per cent of the time in 2009, he said. The area has had issues with
hydrogen sulphide concentrations that exceed government odour
guidelines. "It's important to note we do recognize the odour nuisance
that can exist in the region and it does impact people's lives, and as a
regulator we are holding operators accountable."
Three Creeks, Alberta Environment has been monitoring quality for
several months and will continue to do so. Sampling canisters were given
to residents to capture emissions. A Shell plant in the region had its
environmental approval modified to reduce emissions. The department will
monitor again over the winter to measure whether actions taken to
reduce emissions have had the desired effect, he said.
Langer, who lives near Three Creeks, recently sold most of his family's
cattle because they were getting sick. He will participate in a bucket
brigade. He and his neighbours are willing to wake each other up at
midnight to witness the samples, if that's what it takes. "I think it
will show high levels of these carcinogens in the air." He hopes the
government will then stand up and do something about it.