Stop Pollution to Protect Our Health & Climate
Our Pollution Problem
We have a pollution problem affecting the health of every person in our North Shore communities. Pollution affects health today, making children ill and damaging their lungs and minds, thus impacting their future. It makes elderly people ill and can kill them. Finally, by amplifying global warming, pollution increases future threats to health. Community organization effort focused on health education is a springboard for action.
Airborne pollution, a toxic cloud of tiny particles, causes a very high rate of disease and death in Peabody compared to other locations in Massachusetts.
Nevertheless, very few of us see pollution as an immediate and urgent cause for alarm and action.
We likely don’t relate to the problem because pollution is often invisible, we don’t know the direct impact of pollution on their health, and climate change is a distant idea that can be understood only through a long chain of connections.
I live in Peabody, about a mile from the location of two oil and gas fueled generators and where a third is now being installed. These generators and other sources of airborne pollution, including cars, trains, and other transportation, create pollution. Even in our homes when we heat or cook with oil or gas, we are exposed to toxic fumes, including methane.
Adrienne Allen, MD, MPH has treated North Shore people for over a decade; she reports that her patients say, "I am short of breath, I can't walk.”
Air quality monitors that detect and measure pollution in real time have the potential for bringing a hidden but dangerous reality into view and for helping to motivate as well as inform.
How can we turn measurements and data into actionable, timely information, motivation, and action?
Community organization effort focused on health education is a springboard for action.
A Solution: Educate, Organize, Collaborate
Our goal is to translate the data connecting pollution and health, right down to the individual level. When a parent understands that “This pollution makes my child sick” and when people see that pollution is harmful to their health, then they can work to protect themselves and then advocate t stop the pollution and thus join in the effort to reduce burning fossil fuels and mitigate the damage to the planet.
Our challenge is how to bring together a significant mass of people who will demand change.
We need to find a successful model for this change.
How can we empower many people to demand protection from pollution and say, “Stop burning oil and gas!”
Map the problem
We need to map the problem in the Commonwealth, in Peabody, and at the household level. We need to enable people to be aware of pollution and to organize to protect themselves.
Pollution is a public health challenge that affects everyone in Massachusetts, according to a study by Philip J. Landrigan and David Bellinger, "Air pollution is responsible for premature deaths in every Massachusetts city and town."
Philip J. Landrigan is a pediatrician and epidemiologist, director of the Boston College Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good, and an internationally recognized expert on the relationship between air pollution and disease.
Peabody has a higher than average rate of death due to air pollution. Landrigan and his colleagues found 49 deaths in Peabody caused by air pollution in 2019—from heart disease (20), cancer (23), stroke (2), and COPD (4).—MassCleanAir, Data source for Commonwealth municipalities
All-Cause Mortality (Deaths per 1000) Attributable to PM2.5 Air Pollution by City and Town, Massachusetts, 2019. Landrigan, P.J., Fisher, S., Kenny, M.E., et al. A replicable strategy for mapping air pollution’s community-level health impacts and catalyzing prevention. Environ Health 21, 70 (2022).
How can we turn the statistics assembled by Landrigan, Bellinger, and others, into action to protect health by reducing pollution, while at the same time, combating climate change?
The obstacles to air pollution control are no longer technical. They are economic and political. The opportunity exists to build public and policy consensus around the fact that many of the steps we must take to clean our air will also combat climate change.”—Philip J. Landrigan and David Bellinger, BostonGlobe.com, August 8, 2022
Step 2: Filling in the details
The Commonwealth failed to do a Comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (CHIA) to evaluate the existing and potential health burdens of the residents living close to the Waters River Facility of the Peabody Municipal Light Plant (PMLP). Out of concern for the health of residents living
Mass Climate Action Network (MCAN) brought on Katheryn Rodgers MPH, an Environmental Health Ph.D. student at the Boston University School of Public Health to conduct a preliminary assessment of the health outcomes of residents that live within a 1.2 mile (2 km) radius of the plant with two peaker plants and a third under construction. Rodgers reported on the relatively high levels of pollution-related disease in the area surrounding the Waters River facility of the Peabody Municipal Light plant. The population in this area includes environmental justice groups characterized by poverty, challenges with English, immigrant status, race, or ethnicity.
Step 3 Getting better information
Susan and Ron Smoller, members of Breathe Clean North Shore, worked with the City of Peabody to obtain a grant to obtain 7 Purple Air air quality monitors. Soon after the installation of several of these monitors in Peabody, we saw spikes of 88-100 PM2.5. PM2.5 is a measure of the number of 2.5 micrometers particles per cubic meter.
What do PM2.5 spikes of 88-100 mean? Let's ask an expert, Philip J. Landrigan.
PM2.5 spikes such as you are seeing in Peabody are associated with several major short-term health problems in the 24-48 hours following the spike; increased heart attacks, increased episodes of cardiac arrhythmia, and increased episodes of acute asthma in both children and adults.”—Philip J. Landrigan, personal communication
Community organization models
There are many examples of community action that achieve significant goals.
GreenRoots, Chelsea MA
GreenRoots in Chelsea has a long tradition of working with community members.
“GreenRoots works to achieve environmental justice and greater quality of life through collective action, unity, education, and youth leadership across neighborhoods and communities.”
Their recent efforts have included:
“Won passage of [Environmental Justic] EJ legislation, as part of the Climate Roadmap Bill, after years of advocacy!
Advocated, with the city and federal elected officials, to the EPA and DEP for the installation of a permanent air quality monitoring station and nine mobile air quality monitors in Chelsea.
Secured a major grant, through an environmental settlement, that will provide for the installation of air purifiers in roughly 200 homes, addressing indoor air quality and reducing asthma triggers.”
Las Vegas, Nevada
In Las Vegas, Nevada, a community mobilized to collect air quality data at the level of the individual, using small, portable air quality measurement devices (Plume Labs), thus creating understanding and motivation of the health and climate dangers of pollution in the community. This community of Spanish speakers engages in traditional communal events such as the Day of the Dead. Their active cultural and social bonds enabled collaboration around the problem of air pollution, and they were able to get legislation passed to phase out gas-powered automobiles. A young leader with a dynamic personality helped to focus the community efforts. Alexa Aispuro-Loaiza worked with the League of Conservation Voters to coordinate the community data collection and climate action. Advocacy by the community led to changes to local transportation regulations based on data they collected themselves.
For a short video report, see: https://youtu.be/pvH45axTeys at 20 minutes
Belmont County, Ohio River Valley
Concerned Ohio River Residents (CORR), founded in 2018, is a grassroots advocacy organization dealing directly with the harmful impacts of fracking. Scientists and citizens collaborated to deal with pollution from oil and gas operations. Residents were empowered through community science to track pollution. Air pollution data was monitored by EPA, PurpleAir, and Airviz monitors. “The true power of the public outreach efforts was built through personal, long-term, word-of-mouth organizing.”
“Community members used local sensor data to know when to close windows, wear masks, or update indoor air purification systems, with some members observing high levels of air pollution personally phone calling up to 50 neighbors to provide evacuation warnings and guidance”
“Community data collection relies heavily on community contribution, where the crowd-sourced knowledge is greater than the sum of its parts. Multiple monitors in an area show the spatial relation and movement of pollution events, therein providing validation throughout the network. To supplement the low-cost sensor data, many households took copious notes, including hourly logs of air quality, weather conditions, personal health effects, and sensor performance.”
“Before I got involved, I felt alone, hopeless, and victimized. But once I started organizing with the group, I had hope we could get the help we needed.”
“CORR/FAP (community and scientific) leaders fostered trust and a sense of being cared about and supported new community members who wanted to start speaking out and participating in the research. Community trust is vital: many residents' complaints have been downplayed or ignored by the regulatory agencies. In an environment where there is already so much mistrust, residents need to know that they have safety and support for their concerns.”
The Dragon Slayers of Western Mass
The Berkshire Environmental Action Team (B.E.A.T.) has an enviable record of stopping gas pipelines (No Fracked Gas in Mass) and working with people who run fossil-fueled peaker plants to shift operations to renewable sources of power. The team leaders are Jane Winn and Rosemary Wessel and their tactics range from publicity to large meetings, demonstrations, and quiet sit-downs with company executives.
South Shore Regional model
Judeth Van Hamm lives in Hull and is president of Sustainable South Shore, a Mass Climate Action Network chapter, and co-chair of the South Shore node of 350 Massachusetts. Judeth is working with people in the South shore communities as well as advocating for each town to adopt a Climate Emergency Declaration as a step toward achieving 100% clean energy fast. The several towns comprising Sustainable South Shore meet to share progress towards a long checklist of climate-related goals and to exchange information and ideas.
Guide to action
The model for action that comes from the Las Vegas, Green Roots, Belmont County, and B.E.A.T. experience is:
Empower each community to take steps to mitigate and prevent pollution. Work with already-formed groups based on religion, race, ethnicity, language, national origin, fraternal ties, recreational activities.
The methods of community organization for education and advocacy are effective: identify and go to each existing group and their leaders; and listen to them and support their goals; recognize all who share in the leadership and work.
Provide ways for them to become citizen advocates, with the tools to visualize pollution in their community and their daily lives: In Las Vegas, hand-held, portable monitors were helpful. In Chelsea, the Boston area has area sensors and the sources of pollution are tangible: road and air traffic, LPN depot, and electrical substation; in Belmont County, individuals observed air quality monitors and partnered with scientists to interpret the data, as well as using it to protect the community from danger.
Provide them with the leadership skills, information, and resources to understand and act on their needs; GreenRoots grew out of the established and highly effective “The Collaborative.” Las Vegas had a strong community with experience in working together, and the pollution campaign was led by a young, charismatic organizer with organizational backing. In Ohio, residents used air quality monitors to observe and record data and alerted other residents of danger. Scientists and residents collaborated to address the pollution problem.
Assist the community to bring in expertise and resources: medical, public health, advocacy, political leaders, and technical expertise; early tangible benefits for the community to fuel adoption.
Collaboration among health and public health professionals and other experts empowers residents and develops persuasive, fact-based arguments for political and regulatory change as well as providing immediate health and safety benefits.
Ideas based on effective advocacy on the North Shore:
- Similar to a political campaign: get out and talk with people.
- Build relationships at all levels, with all sectors.
- Listen, listen, listen.
- Identify and recruit people and groups with an interest in your goals; your core supporters.
- Look for and build partnerships.
- Have conversations about the issues.
- Identify and listen to those opposed.
- Educate and explain and listen.
- Use data and facts as a basis for discussion.
- Make your presentations clear and simple to grasp.
- Build support before making your move for official approval.
- When there is a hearing in the city council or other forum, make sure to bring many supporters.
Community life in Peabody
Peabody is made up of a rich tapestry of many identities: ethnic, religious, racial, political, and business, all on display in the annual Peabody International Festival. There are many functioning groups in Peabody, and each is a potential focus for education and organizing. Peabody also has strength in unifying many people as a whole. Annual celebrations, picnics, and gatherings honor those who have served the nation and the community. People assemble to stand against hate, including against antisemitism. We need to work with the many identity groups as well as with the city administration and the elected officials.
If Robert Putnam had lived in Peabody, he might have added a chapter to his book, “Bowling Alone,” in which he deplored the decline of social capital in America. The Peabody bowling alley has no empty lanes on bowling league nights.
The first step is to identify and build a trusted relationship with each community segment. The people living close to the peaker plants are environmental justice (EJ) groups including Black, Hispanic, immigrant, and poor. These groups make up an estimated 20-25% of the population of Peabody. Our partners include Doreen Wade and Domingo Dominguez; each has broad recognition and influence on the North Shore and in the Black and Hispanic groups.
Pollution affects all areas of Peabody. When we engage the more established and economically advantaged people, we will improve our chances to influence to make the systemic changes in how we get our electrical power and how we travel and move goods, changes that are needed to protect health by reducing pollution and to reduce our impact on global warming.
We are working to build a partnership with the Peabody Health Department focused on health education and pollution. This is an important part of demonstrating that our goal is a constructive and worthwhile effort to benefit the whole community.
Adrienne Allen MD MPH is a physician who has treated patients on the North Shore for over a decade and is an outspoken and passionate advocate for preventing pollution. As a partner in our work, she may provide medical and public health perspectives to educate people about the dangers they face and indicate the medical and other steps to mitigate and treat pollution-caused diseases.
Philip J. Landrigan is a pediatrician and epidemiologist, director of the Boston College Program for Global Public Health and the Common Good, and an internationally recognized expert on the relationship between air pollution and disease. His pioneering work and long experience will help guide us.
Doreen Wade is the President of Salem United, the organizer of the annual Negro Election Day celebration at Salem Willows. Through the efforts of Doreen Wade, Negro Election Day is now a state holiday where musicians, community and political leaders, and people of many cultures mingle.
Domingo Dominguez is a Salem City Councilor, a leader of the Dominican and Latinx communities on the North Shore, and a champion for the rights of all.
Mass Climate Action Network; Slingshot; Sunrise; Breathe Clean North Shore; Berkshire Environmental Action Team; No Fracked Gas in Mass; Green Sanctuary Team at Northshore Unitarian Universalist Church (Danvers)*, 350.MA North Shore Node.
Individual supporters and advisors
Judith Black, Marblehead;
Tristan Brown, Peabody;
Lynn Nadeau, Marblehead
Rosemary Wessel, Program Director, No Fracked Gas in Mass
Health education begins with awareness
Real-time information from nearby fixed-location and portable air quality sensors is a tool for enabling people to see how pollution affects them. This information can enable them to control their fate, able to connect pollution to their lives and health. Coupled with a suite of mitigation measures, it can help empower people to organize for change.
Only if we can mobilize large parts of the community can we get the policies and programs to change. We need everyone to see that "this impacts me, this impacts everyone."
Jerry Halberstadt is one of the founding members of Breathe Clean North Shore and is the Coordinator of CleanPowerCoalition.
Plume Labs has provided a FLOW 2 air quality monitor at no cost and has offered to help promote reports about our ongoing advocacy and efforts to develop a health education campaign focused on pollution.
Plume Labs is based in Paris, France, and has recently been acquired by AccuWeather. Plume Labs co-founder and CEO Romain Lacombe said,
“...[Plume Labs] has helped galvanize the fight for clean air by making the health impact of climate change personal.”
AccuWeather & Plume Labs, Environmental data and storytelling: civic action and data journalism (Climate Impact Program ) YouTube
Black, Judith, The Dragon Slayers
Garima Raheja et al, Community-based participatory research for low-cost air pollution monitoring in the wake of unconventional oil and gas development in the Ohio River Valley: Empowering impacted residents through community science, Garima Raheja et al 2022 Environ. Res. Lett. 17 065006
Goobie GC, Carlsten C, Johannson KA, et al. Association of Particulate Matter Exposure With Lung Function and Mortality Among Patients With Fibrotic Interstitial Lung Disease. JAMA Intern Med. Published online October 17, 2022.
Kruzman, Diana, Low-cost sensors are helping communities find gaps in air quality data, Grist, June 24, 2022
Lancet, The 2022 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: health at the mercy of fossil fuels, The Lancet, VOLUME 400, ISSUE 10363, P1619-1654, NOVEMBER 05, 2022.
Marusic, Kristina Tiny particles of air pollution appear more deadly if from human-made sources, Environmental Health News, November 04, 2022
Noor, Dharna, Peabody Peaker plant would harm already ‘overburdened’ communities, advocates say, Boston Globe, November 4, 2022
Rodgers, Kathryn, MPH, Pollution, People, and Powerplants: Health Burdens in Peabody, MA, Massachusetts Climate Action Network, November 1, 2022
Wasser, Miriam, What to know about a planned natural gas 'peaker' plant in Mass. WBUR, April 8, 2022.
Wasser, Miriam, Report: The proposed Peabody power plant will exacerbate existing health inequalities, WBUR, November 4, 2022.