Everyone in the standing-room-only audience laughed.
Guillaume Coiraton, the plant manager of the American Synthetic Rubber Company, had just explained an illustration that showed the range of 1,3 butadiene emissions from the plant. He said the reach of this cancer-causing pollution is very small, barely reaching beyond the fence around the plant. He said that the emissions were not a problem for most people in West Louisville.
Coiraton started his presentation with pictures of smiling employees, green lawns and even a family of geese with the goslings in the foreground and the plant’s big tanks in the background. No one believed him when he said the exposure to butadiene emissions was minimal.
This was the second public hearing that the Air Pollution Control District has held on this topic. ASRC wants permission to increase emissions of 1,3 butadiene. The company claims that this is necessary despite their use of toxics best available technology to control emissions. Butadiene is linked with cancer and many other health problems. The Air Pollution Control District uses exposure modeling techniques to understand the risk of exposure. The exposure limits in the STAR program are expected to cause one cancer per million people over the course of 70 years. At the last public hearing on the ASRC request, a resident of Rubbertown testified about living near the plant, sharing that she had recently had surgery for thyroid cancer.
I attended both hearings and noticed a disconnect between two realities described in the meetings.
ASRC is a company operating in Louisville and emitting toxic chemicals, sometimes within legal limits and sometimes above those limits. The company, and the Air Pollution Control District, say that the risk of exposure is small and within legal limits.
Then, there are the people living and working in Rubbertown. They describe a day-to-day life that is not reflected in the official rules or in any exposure model. Resident and air activist Eboni Cochran spelled out the impact on daily life at the hearing. She called out the educational impact of kids missing school due to an asthma attack, the financial impact of a parent missing work to care for the child and the health impact of not being able to play and exercise outside due to air pollution.
Modeling the risk of exposure is a good way to write regulations to limit emissions. Modeling does not reflect the day-to-day experience of living in the neighborhood. The best models can estimate risk but they do not reflect the daily reality of smells and health issues.
We are asking these residents to take on a higher risk due to the operations of the American Synthetic Rubber plant. How can ASRC and the city recognize this additional risk? What about creating a community benefit fund to recognize this additional risk and balance these two realities?
Creating a community benefit fund would recognize the risk of exposure to butadiene. Providing these funds and giving control of this fund to residents would recognize this risk and give some measure of control to the people living in the neighborhood.
This approach also could make the dialogue between the Air Pollution Control District and Rubbertown residents more productive. Right now the decision is us or them, increased risk or current level of risk, corporation vs. citizens.
The ideal solution would be no risk at all – meaning the residents or ASRC would relocate. That option is not on the table.
A small step forward would be a community benefit fund that residents could use to find solutions to reduce the exposure risk. This specific action would recognize the increased risk of living next to a chemical plant, the increased risk that city leaders and ASRC are asking residents to accept.
You can see pictures and short biographies of each Ambassador here. We are planning several lunches for the Ambassadors over the summer to share ideas and get to know each other. We plan to induct a second class this fall. Nominations are open now for the second 2017 class. We’ll start reviewing nominees in August and announce a second class in September. In October, we’ll have a day-long event to discuss ideas, share strategies and plan new collaborations.
Congratulations to all 32 Ambassadors. We are honored to work with all of you.
Watch Crowd & Cloud tonight on KET
Our work is featured on a documentary showing on KET tonight at 9. AIR Louisville is proud to be featured in The Crowd & The Cloud, a new 4-part documentary funded by the National Science Foundation about the power of citizen science, big data, and mobile technology. We are featured in Program 3 and will air tonight at 9pm EDT on KET.
You also can watch Program 3 online.
AIR Louisville Policy Summit
We had a great turnout in March for our AIR Policy Summit. Seven speakers covered everything from how air pollution gets into our blood stream to asthma trends in Jefferson County to government policy on diesel trucks. We also heard from three special guests from out of town:
• Matt Mehalik, executive director, Air Quality Collaborative, Pittsburgh
• Lindsay Pace, Tennessee Chapter Leader, Moms Clean Air Force
• Mary Peveto, Mary Peveto, executive director, Neighbors for Clean Air, Portland
Each person shared ideas that were very relevant to Louisville. Matt described Smell Pittsburgh, an app built in collaboration with Carnegie Mellon.
Lindsay shared the goals of the Mama Summits she has hosted in Nashville. These yearly events connect parents and legislators to discuss how air pollution affects children’s health.
Mary explained how her organization helped the community take action after the Forest Service
used moss to detect high levels of air pollution linked to glass manufacturing plants. A public health study revealed a cancer cluster near the same plant.
These two news stories motivated the entire community to start torewrite the rules around air quality. Mary and I also spent time at the Air Pollution Control District on Friday to learn more about our STAR program. Mary wants to launch a similar program in Portland to track toxic air pollution.
A central goal of our work is to turn data into policy. We are working with city leaders and project stakeholders to do just that. This collaborative process will end with our final report release, highlighting community priorities and policy recommendations. I surveyed the AIR Summit audience and other project supporters to gauge support for these ideas. You can see the full results here. Some of the most popular ideas were:
• A statewide smoking ban
• More tree planting
• New rules for diesel trucks
If you have any policy thoughts, please send them my way. I’ll be back soon with an update on our data analysis.