Kesem (Hebrew for “magic”) invited 3 air monitoring experts from a worldwide association, "Global Community Monitor" to help conduct a 4 day seminar for 30 people from the community of Ramat Yohanan. In the seminar, the community learned the Bucket Brigade method in which the community uses a simple means (buckets) that are effective and inexpensive tools for monitoring pollutants in the air. In the last day of the seminar the community went to monitor the air near the refinery that is next to the kibbutz. The goal of this act is to lower the air pollution from the industry in the Haifa Bay area by pressuring factory owners and the authorities with real scientific evidence of the contamination. The collected air samples were sent to an analytical laboratory, and Kesem brought the results of the analysis to the community. Kesem continues to support the community in the public pressure on decision makers and factory owners to improve the air quality.
There are many reports about illness in the Haifa Bay, including increased rates of cancer and asthma. I went to the community and heard many stories about air quality that is so bad that people are suffering from it even at night in their own homes. And many community members told of their children suffering from asthma (there are twice as many kids in the Haifa Bay area with asthma than in the whole country). I witnessed one of the accidents in a polyethylene factory which resulted in a huge cloud of black smoke that covered the sky, while the monitors of the Ministry for Environmental protection showed no pollution. A few people called the Ministry to report on the accident but nobody responded to their call for action. We understood then that the community can only change this power dynamic by collecting their own independent data to show the authorities and then demanding action.
Over a year and a half we have been in contact with Denny Larson – the manager of Global Community Monitor (a global association for air monitoring started by Erin Brockovich in 1994)– to bring experts in air monitoring to a 4 day seminar for the community. We raised the money to bring 3 experts from the USA and India. We got help from Izhar Reschef, the manager of the Coalition for Public Health (NGO). Izhar dreamed with us about a community force that can monitor the air. Unfortunately, Izhar passed away from cancer (he was only 37 years old) before the air monitoring seminar started. We initiated meetings with the community of Ramat Yohanan explaining about the seminar, about the bucket brigade and the air monitoring.
Next we organized meetings with environmental councils around the Haifa Bay area, presenting the seminar we were planning and inviting them to join us. Next we organized meetings with the manager of the north area in the Ministry for Environmental protection and the manager of the Haifa municipality. The next step was the air monitoring seminar conducted by the 3 air monitoring exports for 30 people from the community, which took place at Oranim College. After the seminar, we began patrols (3 or 4 people from the community conducted odor patrols with a car each week). We collected air samples, and the results that we obtained demonstrated that there are dangerous materials in the air like the carcinogen MTBE. We uploaded our data to the web for the public use.
near the refineries in Haifa Bay.
We presented our sample results to experts in Israel and experts from Global Community Monitor. Next, we revealed the results to the community and facilitated a discussion about what our next steps should be. It was decided then to go out and take more samples to support our observations in order to prompt action to improve the troubling situation. Since our efforts began, there has been some improvement in the way that the Ministry for Environmental Protection has treated the malodor complaints. Our own method of log sheets for records of the wind direction, time, and odor characteristics are actively used. We have also recorded a reduction in the number of odor accidents since the Bucket Brigade was initiated. Nowadays, the awareness of the people of the community about the air pollution is more profound and every single person in Ramat Yoahanan is familiar with the Bucket Brigade and Kesem.
We have a list of volunteers that go out every week to carry out night patrols around the Haifa Bay area. In these patrols the volunteers keep records on the log sheets and take air samples. We initiated a night dedicated to air pollution in the community. We sold T-shirts, magnets and newsletters of Kesem. The youth of the community prepared meals that were sold to people and the money went to the first air monitoring sample. We are about to organize a first air monitoring seminar for Jewish and Arab youth to lead their communities in the Bucket Brigade method. We are in collaboration with schools and community centers around the Haifa Bay in order to reach out to more communities that suffer from air pollution and want to do something about it.
The awareness about air pollution rose; there is no one in Ramat Yohanan who does not know what the Bucket Brigade is. The number of the malodor accidents from the surrounding industry decreased, as recorded by log sheets. The authorities, especially the Ministry of Environment protection, began to consider the citizens’ complaints about odors from industry in a more serious manner (using our method of odor log sheets). This is mostly due to the capability of the community to monitor and hold their own data about the air. Finally the community has gained the power to know and understand what questions ought to be addressed to the industry and the authorities (For example, what do you consider a gas leak, 5000 ppm or 10000 ppm? When do you fix the leak?). It's important to point out that prior the Bucket Brigade these kinds of questions could not be formulated by the community.
Videos (in Hebrew) about Kesem's work: Bucket Brigade, Ramat Yohanan.
Global Community Monitor's Website: http://www.gcmonitor.org/