Battlement begins a ‘Bucket Brigade’ |

Battlement begins a ‘Bucket Brigade’

John Colson
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado

BATTLEMENT MESA, Colorado – Residents here have decided to take matters into their own hands, literally, when it comes to checking out the chemical components of the air they are breathing.

A group of about 14 residents have recently set themselves up as a “Bucket Brigade” that, instead of the traditional role of fighting fires in the neighborhood, will be testing the air for what are known as “volatile organic compounds.”

These VOCs, as they are termed, are gases associated with the gas and oil drilling industry. Some of them are known to cause cancer in humans, although industry representatives have long insisted that their operations pose no health hazard to the local population.

Trained by a nonprofit organization called Global Community Monitor, of El Cerrito, Calif., the Brigadiers have learned to use a simple piece of equipment designed to “grab” air samples and preserve them for testing at a laboratory.

That equipment, simply described, is a specially made bucket equipped with a heavy-duty Tedlar bag to trap the air sample. Its design was prompted by the infamous refinery pollution case involving Erin Brockovich in the 1990s.

Founded in 2001, GCM has used the bucket-testing system in 40 communities around the U.S. and in other countries “to understand the impact of fossil fuel industry pollution on their health and environment,” according to the GCM website.

“The objective,” said Dave Devanney of the group Battlement Concerned Citizens, “is to be prepared to capture air samples when the drilling begins.”

Devanney was referring to plans by the Antero Resources gas drilling company to drill up to 200 wells within the boundaries of the Battlement Mesa PUD.

The company has leased the mineral rights in the ground beneath Battlement Mesa from the Exxon-Mobile corporation, which built the community for oil shale workers back in the 1980s. And under state law, mineral rights take precedence over surface rights.

While Antero has yet to submit a formal application for drilling permits to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, which oversees the industry in the state, it is expected to do so soon.

The residents, alarmed at the idea of 10 drilling pads scattered around the neighborhood and the potential for air and water pollution from the operations, have accepted that there is no government agency that will come to the rescue regarding the drilling plans.

But they hope that, should the drilling operations be shown to be hazardous to human health, the government will step in somehow and halt the drilling in their neighborhood.

Devanney said the cost of the training, and of the equipment, shipping and analysis by a lab in Washington state, is coming from the Natural Resources Defense Council.

In addition to the Bucket Brigades, the Garfield County Health Department is setting up air monitoring stations at the Battlement Mesa Fire Station and the nearby elementary school building.

Environmental Health director Jim Rada said his department does not put a lot of stock in the bucket technology, noting that “we felt that the training was a bit short on chain of custody procedures” that he said are needed to ensure quality control in the taking and handling of air samples.

“Will it be able to detect if somebody’s at risk of being made sick?” he asked. “No.”

But, he said, the data may be valuable in terms of corroborating data gathered by his department’s monitors.

Devanney, acknowledging Rada’s skepticism concerning the value of the Bucket Brigades, remarked, “I guess that’s just human nature. … If you don’t collect it yourself, you don’t know [how good the data is].”

But, he added, the system has been “validated” by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as effective in studying air quality.

And, unrefined as the data might be, if it confirms, or is confirmed by the county’s own information about possible health impacts by nearby drilling operations, “it’s going to get people’s attention.”

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