Report: What’s in the Air?
A look at the EPA’s 2014 National Emissions Inventory
As we know the air is majority of nitrogen, oxygen, and carbon dioxide. But we humans contribute a lot of negative pollution to the air harming us currently. It is wise to be aware of the types of pollution and their effects in your county. We will look at the the major counties in Birmingham: Jefferson, Shelby, and Walker. This data is from the U.S. EPA’s recently released 2014 National Emissions Inventory.
The National Emissions Inventory (NEI) is a comprehensive and detailed estimate of air emissions of criteria pollutants, criteria precursors, and hazardous air pollutants from air emissions sources. The NEI is released every three years based primarily upon data provided by State, Local, and Tribal air agencies for sources in their jurisdictions and supplemented by data developed by the US EPA. The NEI is built using the Emissions Inventory System (EIS) first to collect the data from State, Local, and Tribal air agencies and then to blend that data with other data sources.
Particulate Matter (PM2.5)
Exposures to air pollution can also cause noncancerous health effects, such as neurological, cardiovascular, respiratory, reproductive and/or immune system damage. As you can see from the graphs above, in all counties, most 2.5 PM levels come from the non-mobile (others) category.
Nitrogen Oxides & Volatile Organic Compounds
Ground level or “bad” ozone is not emitted directly into the air, but is created by chemical reactions between oxides of nitrogen (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOC) in the presence of sunlight. Emissions from industrial facilities and electric utilities, motor vehicle exhaust, gasoline vapors, and chemical solvents are some of the major sources of NOx and VOC. Breathing ozone can trigger a variety of health problems, particularly for children, the elderly, and people of all ages who have lung diseases such as asthma. Ground level ozone can also have harmful effects on sensitive vegetation and ecosystems. We’ll take a look at the NOx and VOC data.
Similar to PM levels, the NOx and VOCs are produced mainly from non-mobile (others) category. Jefferson county produces the highest VOC and NOx.
Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)
Sulfur dioxide is a gas. It is invisible and has a nasty, sharp smell. It reacts easily with other substances to form harmful compounds, such as sulfuric acid, sulfurous acid and sulfate particles. About 99% of the sulfur dioxide in air comes from human sources. The main source of sulfur dioxide in the air is industrial activity that processes materials that contain sulfur, eg the generation of electricity from coal, oil or gas that contains sulfur. Some mineral ores also contain sulfur, and sulfur dioxide is released when they are processed. In addition, industrial activities that burn fossil fuels containing sulfur can be important sources of sulfur dioxide. Sulfur dioxide is also present in motor vehicle emissions, as the result of fuel combustion. Sulfur dioxide affects human health when it is breathed in. It irritates the nose, throat, and airways to cause coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, or a tight feeling around the chest. The effects of sulfur dioxide are felt very quickly and most people would feel the worst symptoms in 10 or 15 minutes after breathing it in. Those most at risk of developing problems if they are exposed to sulfur dioxide are people with asthma or similar conditions.
By looking at this data, we notice that in Jefferson county SO2 levels are primarily from the non-mobile (others) category and for Shelby and Walker SO2 are mainly from non-mobile electric sources.
It is very important to know what is in the air because it will help us save the earth and reduce our pollution!
Action Alert: Oppose the Deceptively Named “Transparency and Honesty in Energy Regulations Act”
At the end of June, H.R. 3117, also known as “Transparency and Honesty in Energy Regulations Act of 2017” was introduced. The bill is due for markup on Thursday in the Natural Resources Committee in the House.
Here’s what H.R. 3117 does:
- Legislates that agencies ignore or drastically undervalue the cost of climate change by creating a wide-ranging restriction on the appropriate use of the social cost of carbon (and analogous estimates for methane and nitrous oxide). This includes any existing or future estimates.
- Ties the hands of future decision makers in responding to changing circumstances on what is a very technical process, informed by up-to-date analysis.
- Results in government decision-making that fails to adequately account for the costly damages of climate change.
The name of H.R. 3117 is completely misleading. It is neither transparent nor honest. As has become the normal pattern of practice, efforts to cater to the fossil fuel industry are masquerading as sound public policy. Put simply, the bill aims to prohibit the Secretary of Energy, Administrator of the EPA and the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality from considering the social costs of carbon, methane and nitrous oxide in taking any action and for other purposes.
Why Does This Matter?
Carbon, methane and nitrous oxide are all greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. As was the case when the U.S. withdrew from the Paris Climate Agreement and the EPA proposed to rescind the Clean Power Plan in October of this year, H.R. 3117 shows we are moving backwards on policies and common sense efforts to combat climate change.
Climate change is not merely a threat to our environment and climate. It is a threat to human beings’ way of life in that it loads the dice for extreme weather events, creates droughts and flooding, leads to rising temperatures and intensifying smog. It is absurd and disastrous to suggest that there is not a social cost associated with these dangerous greenhouse gases.
What You Can Do
H.R. 3117 cannot become law. Our Congress cannot continue down the path of the executive branch of turning their backs on current and future generations when it comes to climate change. Let Congress know that H.R. 3117 flies in the face of the public interest and the environment that sustains us.
Pollution Linked to 9 Million Deaths Worldwide
Kenneth is an intern with Gasp through the UAB Academic Small Business Alliance program.
An unfortunate reality, pollution is by far one of the largest contributors of early deaths worldwide. How deadly is the pollution in our air? According to the research published by The Lancet, the number of tragedies cause by pollution triples the number of deaths caused by AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined. Nearly 6.5 million casualties occur from air pollution and 1.8 million from water pollution, and 0.8 from workplace-related pollution. This is no minor issue. The wellbeing of the general population faces profound threats and concerns as pollution continues to destroy our environment.
Children face the highest risk. The research also showed that more than 1.7 million children under the age of 5 die each year because of the effects of polluted environments (WHO). “Particularly for young children, a polluted environment is deadly,” said WHO Director-General, Margaret Chan. The development of their organs and immune system is crucial at their age, and the vulnerability to the polluted air has devastating consequences. Problems can start as early as inside of a mother’s womb, leaving the death of the baby or child almost inevitable. Improvements in homes, schools, transportation, agriculture, and industry could make a positive impact on children’s’ lives. The questions when and how still remain.
Growing industrial countries in southeast Asia, eastern Mediterranean, and western Pacific regions contribute most to the toxins in the air, and the United States is not far behind. China and India have already suffered a majority of these deaths – 4.3 million people combined. It is important to state that the overwhelming majority of citizens in our country live in areas under extreme air pollution, which may ultimately lead to risks of strokes, heart disease, lung cancer, and neurological damage.
This environmental challenge should not be taken lightly. “It deserves the full attention of international leaders, civil society, health professionals, and people around the world,” said the commission’s co-leader, Professor Philip Landrigan of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. The health impact is much greater than what we realize. But who is to blame? Gasp’s motto iterates “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the pollution.” Healthy air is a regulation that ALL deserve to have, and it takes ALL to contribute to clean air. Individual voices must be heard.
Join our fight for clean air and healthy communities by becoming a member of Gasp today.
An Update on the Air Monitoring Kit
Vaishali is an intern with Gasp through the UAB Academic Small Business Alliance program.
With the help of our lovely technical advisor, Jon Self, we have built our first prototype of the Air monitor! The monitor will test humidity, temperature, air particulate matter, and sound levels through the phone.
(All of the steps are in a PowerPoint. I’ve included some of the slides at the end of this post.)
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
First we needed to solder the Arduino and powerboost shield then we started connecting each part through wires on the breadboard. Below there is a picture of the prototype. Now you may be wondering how we get to see the information collected by the machine. The air particle sensor displays data to an Android device and runs on a battery so it is very convenient and easy to make!
The problem with our first prototype is the original particle sensor did not pick up PM2.5. So we bought a new particle sensor and we are waiting for the new part to come in. We know that the original sensor was incorrect because we compared the data to Dylos, another air particle sensor and there was a vast difference. Comparing the same time and place, the Dylos PM2.5 value was 1000 and our prototype was 6000.
We are also working on 3D printing a case to hold the air monitor parts and look stylish encasing the equipment. Hopefully this new sensor will work correctly and we can start spreading this project to schools for children to make their own!
On Monday, October 9, 2017, the EPA proposed to repeal the Clean Power Plan. Once it is published in the Federal Register tomorrow there will be a 60 day public comment period. [Update: read Pruitt’s delusional press release here.] As we have before for the proposed and final rule, Gasp will be commenting. It is not only regrettable, but also disgraceful that we are commenting again, this time against repealing one of the most critical plans to address and combat climate change.
Clearly the motto of this new administration is to repeal, repeal, repeal with no thought of replacing. Where Scott Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times prior to being in charge of the EPA, I cannot say I’m shocked at this announcement. But this is conscience-shocking.
Where September of this year was the most active month on record for Atlantic hurricanes and the 10 hottest years recorded have all occurred since 1998, climate change isn’t a distant threat, it’s here. The time to act has long passed and we certainly do not have time to roll back existing regulations.
EPA estimates the Clean Power Plan will prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths and 90,000 childhood asthma attacks every year once it is fully implemented.
The message today? Meh, your health, your children’s health, they don’t matter. This administration would rather coyly and ignorantly pretend they’re unsure whether carbon is a pollutant. Such an absurd position is indefensible, especially when it’s well-known who has been buttering Scott Pruitt’s bread for a very long time.
This is a slap in the face to current and future generations. If you agree, please sign our petition for climate action!
Tidying up my family’s summer vegetable and flower gardens brought some calmness to a hectic week. With every season and year that passes, playing in the dirt as therapy gains greater significance for me. I recall when my boys (now teenagers) were young, giving them a shovel and dirt or just being outside would provide hours of entertainment. Maybe the simplicity of the activity throws our souls back to a slower time. I don’t know.
Residents in northern Birmingham neighborhoods are not able to benefit from this therapeutic activity. Their summers are not filled with the simplicity of moving soil around on their property. They cannot allow their children or grandchildren to dig in the yards of their homes. In fact, if their children or grandchildren inadvertently do get down in the dirt (as kids often do) they have been instructed to wash their hands and take off their shoes before coming inside. Hundreds of residential properties are contaminated with toxic chemicals. Arsenic. Lead. PAHs. Soot continues to accumulate on porches and chemical odors are commonplace.
This summer, the EPA began their investigation into Gasp’s Title VI complaint — one of many actions Gasp has taken to address the pollution. We heard in-depth interviews and testimonies from folks living in the impacted neighborhoods. Residents shared the stark realities of how legacy and ongoing pollution have altered their lives and their health.
An elderly woman who every summer for years took pride in her large, well-nurtured vegetable garden that yielded produce for her family and her neighbors shared her memories. At times, the details escaped her, but the joy her backyard garden brought her was palpable. She wonders, now that she knows about the toxic soil, if eating those vegetables year after year could have affected her families’ health. She doesn’t garden anymore.
A retired veteran who gave 30 years of service to our country spends more time outside washing the soot that accumulates on his lawn furniture than he does sitting in that furniture enjoying the outdoors. As a self-described “clean freak,” he is fairly satisfied how the water pressure of the hose cleans the soot off of his new windows, but he grows tired of this mundane chore that is as frequent as taking out the trash.
Also this summer, news broke of Oliver Robinson taking bribes from Drummond Coal and Balch & Bingham to undermine the continued cleanup of toxic contamination in Birmingham and our efforts to expand the investigation into Tarrant.
While it is not terribly shocking that big polluters and their expensive law firms engaged in nefarious activity to maintain the status quo, the silence that followed was. Where are the other elected officials denouncing Drummond Coal’s and Balch & Bingham’s immoral behavior? Where are the opinion letters or full page ads from our corporate leaders and institutions demanding for an apology or, better yet, restitution and cleanup from Drummond Coal and Balch & Bingham? Will the reach of these companies’ tentacles prevent justice from taking priority over the health of entire neighborhoods of people? The health of our children?
The summer of 2017 could have been the beginning of a paradigm shift for the most powerful corporations and institutions in our state. The federal investigation is providing the “cover” for members of the leadership class to side with the residents in northern Birmingham neighborhoods and denounce the actions of Drummond Coal and Balch & Bingham.
Although fall has officially begun, it is not too late. We need to hear from the influential voices denouncing the immoral actions of these corporations and calling for the clean up and reduction of pollution in northern Birmingham neighborhoods. Perhaps by taking action today we can ensure that the generations of tomorrow will have the benefits of a clean and healthy environment.
Start by telling the Birmingham Business Alliance to remove Drummond CEO Mike Tracy and Balch & Bingham Partner Stan Blanton from their board of directors and from barring representatives from leadership for at least two years.
At Gasp my project is to build an air monitor meaning this device needs to measure temperature, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon monoxide, ambient particulate, and humidity levels.
Purpose: Currently, there is a small of amount of data on the particulate matter. There only 7 in Jefferson County that measure fine particulate matter (PM2.5). PM2.5 is an air pollutant and when its levels are high the tiny particles reduce the visibility of the air making the air appear hazy. The higher the PM levels, the worse it is for the lungs so it is important for everyone to know the air quality for their own health and create a safe environment for the next generation.
Future goals: With a successful device, the best way to give back to society is to share our hard work by teaching others how to make their own air monitor. My vision is to create a video with step by step instructions and placing the code on a public platform. A materials kit can be ordered from Gasp and the office would ship the kit to a customer with the link to the instructions and the code. We would like to go to high schools and have a session in class for each student to build his or her own device that they can take home and place it outside.
Current status: We are waiting for the Arduino to ship into the office. The Arduino connects the electronic device to the computer and we use it as a coding software. The Arduino lets us code what we want the machine to do. Our wonderful technical adviser John is working on completing the code. Here’s a picture of all the current parts!
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.
If you’ve been following the North Birmingham corruption investigation involving Drummond Company, Balch & Bingham, and former Rep. Oliver Robinson, you know that our work is a huge part of the story. (Robinson plead guilty on Sept 7.) Yesterday, al.com’s John Archibald reported that newly appointed U.S. Attorney Jay Town is asking for patience in the ongoing corruption investigation — which suggests more indictments may very well be on their way.
We’re trying to do our part to ensure everyone responsible for wrongdoing is held accountable. That’s why we sent a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions asking him to recuse himself from the investigation. His decades-long, lucrative relationships with Drummond and Balch & Bingham could compromise the case, in our opinion, and its better to be safe than sorry.
We are also trying to find possible connections between two $25,000 contributions made to former Alabama Attorney General (now-Senator) Luther Strange by Drummond and actions taken by his office opposing the EPA’s cleanup efforts. On Aug. 23, Gasp attorney David Ludder made an open records act request on our behalf to Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall. We requested “electronic mail records, letters, or other records of communications” between Luther Strange or any employee or agent of the Office of the Attorney General:
- Any employee or agent of Balch & Bingham LLP concerning EPA, Drummond Company, Inc., ABC Coke, or the “35th Avenue site” in Birmingham dated, created or received after April 1, 2014.
- Any employee or agent of Drummond Company, Inc. concerning EPA, Drummond Company, Inc., ABC Coke, or the “35th Avenue site” in Birmingham dated, created or received after April 1, 2014.
- Any employee or agent of ABC Coke concerning EPA, Drummond Company, Inc., ABC Coke, or the “35th Avenue site” in Birmingham dated, created or received after April 1, 2014.
- Any employee or agent of Drummond Company, Inc. concerning contributions to any political campaign of Luther Strange dated, created or received after April 1, 2014.
The AG’s office on Aug. 31 denied our request on the basis that our attorney is based in Florida. That’s not how the Open Records Act works, and we promptly let them know that Gasp is indeed based in Birmingham, Ala., and therefore has every right to review the requested communications. As of today (Sept. 18), we have yet to hear back from Marshall’s office.
That’s not how this works. That’s not how any of this works.
One has to ask, “Is Attorney General Steve Marshall playing politics with our request because he doesn’t want to hurt his predecessor, Luther Strange, in the runoff election on Sept. 26?”
If that’s the case, we’re even more disgusted than we already were. As a 501(c)(3), Gasp is a nonpartisan, apolitical organization. But we have a right to review public records and we shouldn’t be stonewalled for political purposes. Our members deserve answers, and we won’t stop until we get them.
Our mission requires us to educate the public about the harmful effects of air pollution and about cleaner sources of energy. You might say we’re big “fans” of clean energy like wind and solar — and science in general! We’re always looking for creative ways to teach kids about air pollution, health, and renewable energy.
One of our fall interns, Vaishali, found this video (above) that shows how to make a simple and efficient personal fan using solar energy! So she assembled a list of materials and equipment and wrote out the step-by-step instructions. This is a great classroom project for science teachers and science clubs. We created an Amazon Shopping List for anyone interested in trying it out. The materials cost about $32.The equipment will run about $25, but you should be able to borrow a hot glue gun and/or soldering kit if you don’t already have one of your own.
Teachers: Feel free to reach out to Michael Hansen (205-701-4270, email@example.com) if you’d like us to come to your classroom for a project like this one!
- 3V Solar Panel
- 12V Small DC Motor
- Small Propeller
- Styrofoam blocks
- A plywood board
- Hot Glue Gun
- Soldering Machine
- Connect the wires on the motor to the solar panel using soldering
- Cut two long rectangles of Styrofoam and glue them down to the cardboard with 3 inches separation
- Glue the motor to one Styrofoam
- Glue the solar panel to the other Styrofoam facing towards the sun
- Attach the propeller to the motor
- Congrats! You’re done!
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