My name is Katie Causey and I am a junior at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. I am majoring in Biomedical Science with a minor in chemistry. My long-term career goal is to become a physician to improve the quality of human health.
So far working as one of Gasp’s spring interns for 2019 has opened up my eyes on the reality of what poor air quality does to our health. As a pre-med student I have always been concerned about various factors that contribute to our overall well-being, but to be quite honest I have never thought about air pollution from a public health standpoint and what we are exposed to on a daily basis. This semester my main project and focus is to educate the school systems in Jefferson County on what Gasp’s aspirations are, what they stand for, and hopefully implement the amazing programs that they have to offer.
I have had the privilege to talk with some schools about their previous endeavors with Gasp and others about future involvement with Clean Air, Healthy Kids. When I was around the students and listened to their concerns, all I could think was that I wish that I had had this kind of exposure earlier on in my academic career. A couple weeks ago I also had the pleasure of going to a local school to inform them about what exactly the Gasp program entailed and how it would best benefit their school.
As a result of some schools’ dedication to this program, Gasp was able to show the others what they had already accomplished by bringing tangible products of the classroom’s success. I would love to for this to act as as a domino effect and let the involvement of other schools and their achievements speak for itself. I believe that the more the general public is educated on what is happening and what needs to be done, it is one step closer to having exceptional air quality in our great city of Birmingham, Alabama.
by Christian Lam, Maggie Khan and Andrew Gelderman
First of all, what is the BioBucs?
The Hoover High School BioBucs is the Hoover High School environmental science research competition team. The club was created with an ultimate goal of being recognized as a Green Flag School by the National Wildlife Federation, but has taken on many more projects around our school campus and community. Within two years, we’ve established a pollinator/sensory garden for Special Ed, built a solar-powered phone charging station, conducted a Hoover High light audit, and participated in three Lexus Eco Challenges so far.
We won the 2018-19 Southeastern Regional Lexus Eco Challenge! A large part was thanks to our collaboration with Gasp. In Spring 2017, we worked with Gasp volunteer Jonathan Self and intern, Vaishali N and built the AirBeam sensors that works in conjunction with the AirCasting App. Through this combo, we were able to record the particulate matter in the air in three different locations: Hoover High, Southern Research STEM Lab, and Sloss Furnace. The PM 2.5 of Sloss Furnace peaked at 347 even in the rain, while Hoover High peaked at 9 on a clear day. When it’s raining, accumulated air pollution sticks to the rain and travels into the ground. Who knows what the Sloss’s PM count would’ve been on a clear day.
Below is a gallery of pictures from our air quality testing adventures and more:
HSS Bio Bucs and Gasp
HHS Bio Bucs, their teacher, Janet Ort, Gasp volunteer, Jon Self and Gasp Intern built an AirBeam monitor in spring of 2018
Testing air quality at 5 points
Using the pm monitors built with Southern Research
Fixing Gasp sensor
Tightening up the wires on the breadboard on the Gasp monitor
Testing air quality at Sloss
Using the Gasp sensor on a cold, rainy Dec afternoon
Taking data at Hoover High School
Group photo of Hoover BioBucs
Left to Right: Abigail Collins, Elise Collins, Janet Ort, Maggie Khan, Christian Lam, Amanda Gawlowicz, Christian Pegouske, Andrew Gelderman.
Photo was taken at the Cahaba Environmental Center. Recording biodiversity in the surrounding area by identifying the plant species by their leaves.
Particulate matter (pm) monitor
Hoover High School (HHS) BioBucs teamed with Gasp to build an AirBeam monitor that sends pm data to an AirCasting app
Interning at Gasp has definitely brought a lot of things to my attention regarding health and safety in the city of Birmingham. Birmingham per se contains an immeasurable number of pollutant factors, all of which produces damaging toxins into our air. These factors include industrialized buildings, trains, cars, etc.
The population—you, me, family, friends, babies, grandparents—are ALL affected by the pollution in the air, and a change is vital for the safety of our lives. Because what originates from the minor emission of CO2 and ground level ozone may lead to an asthma attack or lung disease, seen especially in children.
During my internship at Gasp, I have been working on a project to help implement EPA’s Flag Program into local elementary, middle, and high schools of Birmingham and Jefferson County. The objective of this program is to use brightly colored flags to help students become aware of daily air quality conditions. When students know the daily air quality, they can adjust their daily routine to reduce exposure to air pollution.
With the help of Michael, Haley, and Kirsten, I am currently in the position of reaching out to science educators that may be interested with incorporating EPA’s program into their schools. Hopefully by the end of my school semester a majority of schools in the Birmingham and Jefferson County get involved with this essential and foundational program.
After conducting an air study around three major public high schools, I decided to conduct some testing around Birmingham’s local parks. The five parks tested were Elyton, Lynn, Greenwood, Avondale, and Homewood Park. I tested each park over a period of three days, and I spent around five minutes walking around each park.
On the first day of testing, I noticed how different the parks were from each other. In Elyton and Lynn Park, there were no people around. I was quite happy by this development, because I would not have to explain to any civilians why I was carrying around a weird looking device! Greenwood Park was also empty, except I saw an airplane flying over the park. Due to this observation, I assumed that Greenwood would have a high level of pollution. At Avondale and Homewood Park, there were actually people walking around and playing tennis. I even saw geese near the lake in Avondale, and I was taken away by the beauty of the architecture.
On the second day of testing, Elyton and Lynn Park were still empty of my fellow human brethren. While at Elyton Park, I did hear a very loud noise. It sounded like an engine or really strong wind. After checking the weather data, the wind was only travelling around 9 miles per hour, so I concluded that there may have been an airplane flying by that was out of my line of vision. I actually saw other people at Greenwood Park, and even a cute little dog enjoying the park’s playground and basketball court. The geese were at it again at Avondale Park, except they were enjoying the scenery under the playground steps. I am so glad that I was able to capture a picture of their relaxed awesomeness. I concluded my journey at Homewood Park, where there were so many people walking around.
The final day of testing was pretty interesting. I actually saw another human at Elyton Park! He was enjoying a morning stroll, while I walked around the park collecting data. Next, I went to Lynn Park where I discovered that there was another part of the park that included a small playground, so I made sure to collect data near that part of the park. At Greenwood Park I, once again, observed a few people playing basketball. While at Avondale and Homewood, I noticed that there were so many people around. I tried to walk for more than five minutes in both parks, because both parks are at least twice the size of the other three, and I wanted to collect as much data as possible. After returning back to work, I realized that no pollutant particle data was recorded for Avondale, because the AirCasting app apparently crash and froze while I was there collecting data.
It’s been a few weeks since I updated everyone on executive and legislative actions. Sadly, this is not because there has been nothing to update; so this will be a long one! However, one reason this update is delayed is because I attended an inspiring conference two weeks ago that replenished my “hope budget” and gave me new energy to tackle the many and ever-growing attacks on clean air. Since I blogged last month, several new developments have cropped up and we have new updates:
March 6, 2017: White House Announces Plan to “Close Out” Energy Star program: A spending blueprint would slash Energy Star and related programs, leaving $5 million “for the closeout or transfer of all the climate protection voluntary partnership programs.” According to our friends at ACEEE, Energy Star spend about $50 million through EPA and $7 million through the Department of Energy. According to the Obama administration, the Energy Star program saved consumers $34 billion in electricity costs and prevented more than 300 million metric tons of GHGs in one year while improving ambient air quality.
March 8: The HONEST Act (H.R. 1430): This proposed bill is sponsored by Lamar Smith, R-TX. The bill works “[t]o prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from proposing, finalizing, or disseminating regulations or assessments based upon science that is not transparent or reproducible.” This bill is an attempt to revise the EPA’s scientific review process that guides their rulemaking. The bill was introduced on March 8, 2017 and passed by recorded vote in the House (228 – 194) on March 29, 2017.
March 13: Executive Order on a Comprehensive Plan for Reorganizing the Executive Branch: President Trump signed this Executive Order, where the stated purpose is “intended to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of the executive branch by directing the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (Director) to propose a plan to reorganize governmental functions and eliminate unnecessary agencies (as defined in section 551(1) of title 5, United States Code), components of agencies, and agency programs.”
March 15: Republicans Joint Resolution on Climate Change: A group of 17 Republican members of Congress signed a resolution vowing to seek “economically viable” ways to combat global warming. It pledges to “study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates” and seek ways to “balance human activities” that contribute.
March 21: President Trump is Not Considering a Carbon Tax: despite a meeting between Republican elder statesmen and Trump Administration officials, President Trump announced he is not considering a carbon tax.
March 28: Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth: President Trump signed this Executive Order. The goal is to halt the United States’ government’s attempts to curb carbon dioxide emissions with the goal of encouraging American business. We borrowed the words of our friends at NAACP on this day to express our extreme disappointment with this negligent and potentially disastrous change in course for addressing the impacts of climate change.
April 5: Congressional hearing on the RECLAIM Act of 2017 (H.R. 1731): At the hearing, ranking member Alan Lowenthal, D-CA, stated “[t]he idea behind the RECLAIM Act is to take part of the large unexpended balance in the [AML Fund] and devote it to projects where cleaning up mines leads to economic and community benefits. This is, quite frankly, a win-win.” There was testimony from the bill’s lead sponsor, Hal Rogers, R-KY, and three witnesses. The hearing itself was a major milestone for the RECLAIM Act.
FOLLOW UP ON ACTIONS PREVIOUSLY COVERED
Congressional Review Act put into play by U.S. Congress: The CRA allows senators and representatives who disapprove of a regulation to enter a resolution eliminating it. The resolutions require the signature of the president. So far this year, the following rules protecting the environment and human health have been targeted under the CRA:
The Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule: Update: On February 16, 2017, President Donald Trump signed the repeal of the Stream Protection Rule.
Department of the Interior Methane Flaring Rule: The House voted on February 3, 2017 with no action so far from the Senate as of the date of this post. Update: on March 21, 2017, some Republican lawmakers came out against using the CRA to repeal this rule. Specifically, Sen. Lindsey Graham said he believed the rule could be subject to improvement, not just cancellation. “I think we can replace it with a better reg, rather than a CRA.”
Drilling and Mining on Public Lands: On January 31, 2017, the House introduced a joint resolution that would repeal the rules that allow the National Park Service to manage private drilling and mining in 40 parks across the country.
Status of Bills in U.S. Congress covered in previous posts:
Jason Smith, R-MO
Establishes a commission to identify obsolete and unnecessarily burdensome regulations to be repealed. It also sets goals for the commission to reduce costs by 15 percent and to prioritize major rules that are more than 15 years old and rules that can be eliminated without diminishing effectiveness.
No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
Paul Mitchell, R-MI
Requires independent agencies to submit rules to the Office of Management and Budget before they are published—essentially giving the president tight control of the rule-making process
No action since the bill passed the House on 3/1/2017.
Tim Walberg, R-MI
Would require agencies to publish more detail of forthcoming rules and regulations
No action since the bill passed the House on 3/2/2017.
Gary Palmer, R-AL
Blocks the EPA’s ability to address climate change
No actions taken since the bill was introduced. You can read our analysis of the bill here.
Matt Gaetz, R-FL
Would abolish the EPA effective December 31, 2018
No actions taken since the bill was introduced.
Sam Johnson, R-TX
Would leave EPA with a budget of less than $1 billion. This bill would eliminate EPA climate change programs and would also close all of the EPA’s regional offices, halt new regulations on ground-level ozone pollution and require the agency to lease unused property
OMB Proposed Budget Cuts to EPA and NOAA: The proposed budget cuts would reduce EPA’s staff by one fifth in the first year and eliminate dozens of programs. Specifically, EPA’s staff would be slashed from 15,000 to 12,000. The proposed budget would also cut EPA’s grants to states, including air and water programs, by 30 percent and eliminate 38 separate programs in their entirety. Media outlets also discovered a four page budget memo that would slash NOAA’s budget by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs. Any such cuts would have to be codified through the congressional appropriations process. Update: U.S. Congress is currently in recess for the Easter holiday but are expected to consider OMB’s budget proposal upon their return.
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This past Sunday, a Meet the Press interview featuring Counselor to President Donald Trump Kellyanne Conway went viral after she coined the phrase “alternative facts.” I couldn’t help but chuckle when I heard this euphemism coming out of the new White House. (I also cringed at the Orwellian undertones. But that’s a topic for a book club.)
Alternative Fact #1: Air pollution is not a big deal anymore
The Truth: Air pollution is the world’s top environmental health risk factor for premature death and disease. Every single year, dirty air contributes to more than 5.5 million deaths. Air pollution is linked to all kinds of bad health outcomes, including: asthma attacks, cancers, lung disease, heart disease, stroke, and more. Today, the federal Clean Air Act is estimated to save more than 200,000 lives and prevent nearly 2 million asthma attacks annually.
Alternative Fact #2: Climate change is a hoax
The Truth: In a survey of nearly 12,000 climate studies, researchers found that of those addressing climate change, 97 percent say humans play a role. We also just ended the hottest year on record — the third consecutive record-setting year. Climate change isn’t up for debate; it’s already happening. And we need to act now to mitigate harms such as severe drought, coastal flooding, heat waves, extreme weather events, and sea-level rise. It’s alarming, then, that the new administration has issued a so-called “gag order” on climate science for federal entities.
Alternative Fact #3: Hazardous air pollutants aren’t dangerous for kids
The Truth: Hazardous air pollutants (or “air toxics”) pose serious health risks to everyone, but are especially dangerous for young and unborn children. For example, the World Health Organization describes mercury as “a threat to the development of the child in utero and early in life … that may have toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lungs, kidneys, skin and eyes.” That didn’t stop Scott Pruitt, President Trump’s pick to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, from signing onto a 2012 lawsuit against the EPA that said, “the record does not support EPA’s findings that mercury…pose[s] public health hazards.”
Alternative Fact #4: Coal is the fuel of the future
The Truth: Coal is the horse and buggy of the energy industry. Sure, a ride in a horse-drawn carriage on a chilly night with your significant other can be romantic every now and then. But as a mode of transportation? Not so much. Coal — and other fossil fuels for that matter — are dirty sources of energy. Extracting it degrades our environment. Burning it pollutes our air and lungs. Storing the waste jeopardizes our rivers, streams, and land. “Clean coal” is a marketing slogan. Wind and solar energy are both free, renewable fuels that are becoming more and more cost-competitive by the day.
Alternative Fact #5: Solar energy doesn’t work in Alabama
The Truth: Not only is solar energy viable in Alabama, but the state’s rooftop solar potential is greater than the total electricity it produced in last year. That’s a really frustrating fact when you consider that Alabama ranked a dismal 50th in 2015 in solar jobs per capita. Think about all of the new jobs we could create building and installing solar panels locally. Watch this video of former Alabama coal miner Chuck Jay who became a solar installer in his second career! Think of how many former coal workers who could be put to work in a new green economy!
Alternative Fact #6: There’s nothing I can do about this anyway
The Truth: You are more powerful than you know. We’re fond of the Margaret Mead saying, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Together, we can protect our environment from toxic pollution and stand up to those who would pollute our air, water, and land. Here are five easy ways you can take action today with us: