Northern Alberta residents learn to sample air quality near tar sands

The Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada, ar...
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Edmonton – Growing criticism of the Stelmach government’s and the oil industry’s air quality monitoring in communities near tar-sands operations has spurred residents from the Peace and Athabasca regions to take matters into their own hands, attending independent training workshops to arm themselves with answers to the ongoing health issues plaguing their communities.

The air sampling trainings, called the “bucket brigade,” were conducted over the past week in the Peace and Athabasca regions, where community representatives from the areas teamed up with environmental justice organizations including Keepers of the Athabasca, Sierra Club Prairie, Global Community Monitor and Greenpeace.

“When governments don’t do their jobs, it is up to local people to start taking action. Community members alongside tar-sands projects, particularly in Fort McKay, have reported a rise in asthma, sore throats and headaches due to the odors of noxious gasses and benzenes in the air,” said Alice Marten, member of the Keepers of the Athabasca. “Yet the government refuses to admit the levels of toxins are adversely affecting human health.”

The Bucket Brigade is an inexpensive and simple method that allows communities to self-monitor air quality and contaminants in toxic hot spots such as Dene, Cree, Metis and settler communities directly impacted by tar-sands extraction operations. In the workshops, residents learn how to use the clear plastic buckets, which house a small pump, a sterilized plastic bag, and a few metal fittings, to sample for more than 70 airborne gasses, many of which are not tested by existing and faulty monitoring stations.

“The Bucket Brigade trains local people in impacted communities, who are capable of confronting poisons in their community directly,” said Dustin Johnson, energy campaigner with the Sierra Club Prairie Chapter. “Due to the failures with government monitoring and regulation, paired with the expansion of toxic operations like the tar sands, this type of training is necessary for local people to receive accurate information about what they are being exposed to, empowering them with honest information about the impacts from industry.”

Carmen Langer, a Three Creeks resident in the Peace River region whose family has farmed and raised cattle for the past three generations, also attended the training. But for him and his family, many of these answers will come too late.
“Our family decided to sell our cattle last week due to the toxic emissions that were negatively affecting our cattle,” said Carmen. “We no longer felt it was responsible to continue to put this type of meat into the food supply. The cattle were exhibiting detrimental effects to their health from nosebleeds to miscarriages to being brought to their knees after a bad bout of emissions on certain days. The negligence of the Alberta government is putting our family farm out of business – we no longer feel safe to raise and grow food.”

Currently four buckets have been given out in the two regions. Communities hope to have results sometime in January 2011.

“The bucket brigade is an example of local people taking the power back into their hands, helping to expose the ongoing human rights violations and environmental degradation caused by the business-as-usual approach to resource extraction in this province,” said Melina Laboucan-Massimo, Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner. “Finally these communities will get the answers they need.”

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