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Building Community Power On The Frontlines: Silver City

A welcome sign outside the community of Argentine.

On June 10th, CleanAirNow presented the Silver City Project to the Promotoras, community health leaders from El Centro, an organization dedicated to providing resources to the Hispanic population of Kansas City. This level of community organizing marks a huge step forward in the relationship between CleanAirNow, El Centro and the community of Argentine, who have been working together for several years now. Later this year, low-cost air monitors will be installed throughout Argentine in high-risk areas. These monitors will detect particulate matter that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, and this data will then be made available to the local community via a real-time website.

The federal reference air monitors currently installed in Kansas City by the Environmental Protection Agency only measure ambient air pollution, and they are several miles away from the community of Argentine. Therefore, implementing an air monitoring network will be more beneficial for gathering air quality data in the community. Though minuscule, over time 2.5 μm particles can cause health concerns such as respiratory issues, cancer, and skin irritation. Since Argentine is near many potential sources of toxic air pollution, including railroads and industrial sites, it is necessary to raise awareness about these dangers in this frontline community.

Knowing more about air quality in the community will allow residents to advocate for improved air quality and create awareness, not only of air pollution, but also of the environmental health issues that exist throughout Argentine. Air pollution can cause serious short-term and long-term health problems, but with knowledge of the risks and how to reduce the risks, people can protect their health and the health of their families. This presentation to the Promotoras was meant to introduce the project to them, and also to discuss the idea of creating a community-led focus group. The Promotoras have been asked to recruit about ten community members from Argentine who will help lead the project and participate in making decisions about the climate and health plans and actions that will result from it. For example, this group will advise on where to place monitors after identifying pollution sources, and they will inspire the rest of the community to initiate change by sharing valuable information about air quality in the area. Additionally, the focus group can share news about the project with other community leaders, organizations, and the government. 

After the installation, the community will have easy access to air quality information in their area. An air quality website will show real-time data gathered by the air monitors. Moreover, different colored flags may be displayed around town to let the community know when air quality is dangerous, so they can take actions such as minimizing time spent outside to protect themselves. 

CleanAirNow advocates for cleaner air in the Kansas City metro area. This project will build community power through data collection and community organizing. Our goal is is that the tools and improved information on air pollution in the community will empower Argentine residents to speak out more about environmental health issues and work to find solutions. COVID-19 has a more severe impact on people who live in areas with poorer air quality, so knowledge of air pollution problems is very important, especially during this pandemic. We hope that this community engagement and the data collected will provide the nexus for an academic institution to undertake an environmental health study and provide research that will allow community members to advocate for policies that protect public health in Argentine and other frontline communities such as Armourdale and Turner. 

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