A Case Study: Parents CAN Fight Polluters

BY ON August 2, 2011

If there are two major lessons I have learned from writing for the Moms Clean Air Force it is that there is mercury in our air — blech! — and that we can’t assume that regulatory agencies are doing anything about it.

Oftentimes, these same agencies’ hands are tied by lawsuits and political agendas to further defund them, yet they are also blamed for not protecting us. However, some parents — like those of us at Moms Clean Air Force — have taken matters into our own hands.

The parents pictured above are examples of families who have chosen not to wear the blinders — at least not when their children’s health is at risk. Most recently, parents — and non-parents! — at the Bay Area for Clean Environment from the San Francisco Bay Area recently won a hard-fought victory to possibly keep a politically influential and polluting cement plant from gaining anymore government contracts.

“This is a huge milestone for the people who have been advocating regulatory agencies to hold a polluting cement plant accountable to the law,” local mom Hoi Yung Poon said.

Bay Area Clean Environment board member, father and grandfather, Richard Adler said this is the first political action he has ever taken aside from voting.

“When I moved here in 1999, I sort of knew that this plant was here,” Adler told me on my visit to Cupertino, which is in California’s tech hub, Silicon Valley. “I went on the assumption that this was a regulated business, which is true. But the people who regulate it were not doing their jobs. That’s the reason for this movement.”

Adler, like other members of the Bay Area Clean Environment, became informed of the Lehigh Southwest Cement Company’s polluting ways when Earth Justice filed a lawsuit against cement plants in general in 2008. Cement plants are a major source of mercury emissions as they burn limestone that contain mercury. Mercury is a major neurotoxin that can damage the brain, kidneys and a developing fetus.

Mercury emissions are not to be taken lightly, which made Cupertino residents’ discovery all the more disturbing. They learned that not only did the mercury-emitting Lehigh plant receive notices of ordinance violations, but that the government did nothing about it and even rewarded the company with huge contracts like interstate highways.

“It’s like the police giving people speeding tickets, but not doing anything about it,” Adler said.

Adler said that Lehigh’s tactics were quite sinister. The company tried to deflect blame for air pollution by saying that it wasn’t its fault that limestone contained mercury. He also said that the company invested a lot of money in lobbying efforts to paint Adler’s group as a fringe, vocal minority. The experience taught him the importance of informing neighbors and gaining their support.

It resulted in the community fighting back, collecting more than 25,000 signatures and holding meetings and rallies. Some residents, he said, just assumed that regulatory bodies were protecting them.

“Before (this issue), I voted and had done my duty,” Adler said. “In the last year I realized that it isn’t enough.”

The deadline to help curb mercury emissions on a national scale is just around the corner. To quickly e-mail the EPA, click here.

TOPICS: Pollution