What’s in Salem’s air?
“There’s nothing better than seeing people come together for a cause,” says Antonio. He and a fellow student, Casandra (Cassie), are practicing their leadership as interns with Latinos Unidos Siempre (LUS). Their first challenge: uniting neighbors to demand cleaner, safer air quality in Salem.
Cassie takes the issue personally. She has lived most of her 17 years in Salem, and her chronic condition makes her very sensitive to air pollution. “Coming from the Northgate area, I have seen how pollution has made a drastic change in my community. Each year it gets worse and worse. It is difficult to even breathe during rush traffic hours.” By helping people understand the pollution they encounter every day, Cassie and Antonio hope tounite neighbors as clean air advocates to better their communities. “We want to hold polluters accountable in order to move forward and hopefully one day breathe cleaner air,” says Antonio.
Under the guidance of LUS, and with support from Oregon Environmental Council, Antonio and Cassie are launching an air quality awareness project in January. They have both seen models and maps that suggest there might be high levels of diesel pollution in their neighborhoods. Now, they want to use air sampling equipment and observations to find out if those models and maps match what people are actually experiencing.
“The idea behind the diesel pollution sampling project is to reveal the toxic pollution in our neighborhoods and share that information with the people that live here,” says Cassie. We will start by listening to people who live here, so we all understand why people are concerned and where they are experiencing pollution. Then, we will have a chance to sample the levels of toxic particles from diesel pollution in our area and listen to testimonies of people that have been harmed by the toxic air that surrounds us.” “My goal is to provide and share with the community our findings and get community members involved,” says Antonio.
Antonio and Cassie are particularly interested in diesel pollution levels near construction sites. They are also curious to see whether samples in low-income parts of town might be different from higher-income neighborhoods. But mostly, they are keeping their minds and ears open to hear from neighbors. They want to know who else is concerned about air pollution, and who else might be worried about the effects on hearts and lungs, and about carcinogens.
Cassie and Antonio will lead a “diesel pollution workshop” with LUS and Oregon Environmental Council on January 18 in Salem. They hope to hear from neighbors about their concerns, so that they can design their sampling project to address those concerns. Then, with volunteers including students of Willamette Academy, they will collect samples through February. By March, they hope to have their findings ready to share with the community so that they can help advocate for solutions.
All Salem residents and people from neighboring areas are welcome to attend the January 18 workshop. “We hope people will come to share their concerns and learn more about diesel pollution. We will also be happy to have help, if people want to volunteer to be part of the sampling project.”