A 5-gallon plastic bucket, not unlike the ones janitors use for mopping
floors, is now becoming an essential tool to help communities clean up air
The Newtown Florist Club, a Gainesville environmental and civil rights
group, sponsored a workshop Saturday to teach citizens how to become part of
the "Bucket Brigade."
The idea originated in 1995 with Edward Masry, the attorney who worked with
environmental activist Erin Brockovich. Angry about a release of toxic fumes
from an oil refinery in Contra Costa County, Calif., he sought a way for
ordinary people to document air pollution.
The result: a user-friendly device, housed inside a bucket, that can "grab"
and store air samples for analysis.
"The professional version of this is encased in a stainless steel canister
and costs a couple thousand bucks. But these can be manufactured for about
$100," said Denny Larson, who conducted the Newtown workshop.
As part of an organization called Global Community Monitor, Larson has
traveled throughout the United States, Africa and Asia, teaching
neighborhood groups how to battle pollution.
"I've sort of been acting as the Johnny Appleseed of the Bucket Brigade," he
said. "This system is the environmental equivalent of a crime watch program.
People can take a sample of a (pollution) release as it occurs, to prove
He said this can help hold companies accountable for chemicals that escape
beyond the boundaries of their plants.
"There's no requirement that they install monitoring systems at the fence
line or in nearby neighborhoods," Larson said. "The Bucket Brigade has been
very effective in breaking through this problem."
Tabatha Jackson, program director for the Newtown Florist Club, said this is
exactly what they're hoping for. The group has long contended that pollution
from industries in south Gainesville is affecting residents' health.
"We know what level (of pollution) the industries in the area are allowed to
emit," she said. "We can compare our data and go to environmental agencies
with this information."
The bucket monitors can detect up to 88 different toxic gases, Larson said.
"The Environmental Protection Agency has approved this sampling method, and
the data can be used as evidence in court."
Jackson said the club has purchased two of the buckets and plans to conduct
air monitoring in the Newtown neighborhood and on Black and Cooley drives.
About 30 people signed up for the weekend workshop, not all of them from
Joanne Steele of Sautee, a member of Alto-based Action for a Clean
Environment, already had a bucket that her group purchased. She just needed
to learn how to use it.
"A concern that we've had over the years is the burning of household trash
and construction debris in rural areas," she said. "It's quite prevalent in
White County, even though it's illegal. I'm interested in using this bucket
to determine what sort of toxics these fires are giving off.
"In the old days, trash was mostly organic. Now you've got lots of plastics,
pressure-treated lumber, asbestos shingles. I'm also concerned about the
application of pesticides on fields and wanted to find out if this type of
testing could detect that."
Steele said the Bucket Brigade training is a valuable asset.
"It's important to learn how to document (pollution) incidents," she said.
"By the time you can get someone from a state agency to come out to the
site, you're not going to get an accurate sample."