Louisiana Bucket Brigade
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit environmental health and justice organization based in New Orleans, Louisiana. Founded in 2000, the organization works with communities neighboring state oil refineries and chemical plants to address air quality issues.
"Buckets" that sampled air quality were pioneered by attorney Edward L. Masry in 1995 after he and Erin Brockovich fell ill when exposed to fumes from a petroleum refinery in Contra Costa County, California. Unsatisfied with the monitoring conducted by government authorities, Masry hired an environmental engineer to design a low cost device which community activists could use to monitor toxin levels themselves.
Denny Larson promoted the use of the buckets in other communities, including outside of California, and helped found the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. In 2001, Larson formed the "Global Community Monitor" to act as an umbrella organization for Bucket Brigades around the world. According to Larson, "The Bucket Brigade is not a scientific experiment. Our focus is on organizing. We use science, but only in the service of organizing.”
The mission of the LABB is to “support communities' use of grassroots action to create informed, sustainable neighborhoods free from industrial pollution.” To accomplish this goal, the organization uses the bucket to take air samples in residential areas that are located near oil refineries and chemical plants. The LABB compiles several air samples from different citizens around one area; with this evidence they strive to reduce the levels of pollution.
Designed to function like the Summa canisters used by government and industry, the buckets used in a Bucket Brigade are far cheaper and have comparable results. Air is drawn into a Tedlar bag housed inside a five gallon bucket. The bag is sealed and sent to a laboratory for analysis. The bag's contents are analyzed using Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and compared to a library of toxic gases. While the buckets cost only $75 each, the GC-MS samples cost $500.
Organizing in Louisiana
The community of Mossville is located in between Westlake and Sulphur across the Calcasieu River from the city of Lake Charles in Calcasieu Parish, Louisiana. Forty of the fifty-three industrial facilities in Calcasieu Parish are located within 10 miles of Mossville. These facilities represent the largest concentration of vinyl plastic manufacturers in the U.S., a coal-fired power plant, oil refineries, and chemical production facilities.
In September 1998, Mossville residents of "fenceline communities" formed a bucket brigade and began taking samples. The samples revealed violations of Louisiana standards for vinyl chloride, ethylene dichloride, and benzene. One sample found carcinogenic benzene in excess of 220 times the State's standard.
In the following year, after much media attention, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed pollution levels higher than detected by the bucket brigade. Some facilities were fined and new monitoring devices were installed. By 1999, bucket brigades had spread throughout the cancer alley of Louisiana, leading to the formation of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. The organization gives grants to community groups to continue bucket monitoring.
The Louisiana Bucket Brigade is featured in the 2002 documentary film Blue Vinyl.
- Denny Larson, Good Neighbor Campaign Handbook Chapter 6: Crime Scene Investigation: Tools you can use to catch and expose pollution, Bucket Brigades 2006
- Louisiana Bucket Brigade: Communities