Officials wouldn’t make sure Kansas City, Kansas air was safe to breathe. So we did it.
By Beto Lugo-Martinez KCMO Resident
Most of us in the Kansas City metropolitan area benefit in one way or
another from living in one of the nation’s most important rail hubs to move goods around the country. However, not enough of us are aware of a serious
public health hazard that goes with it.
It turns out that we’re all exposed to a form of toxic air pollution —
fine particulate matter — that causes lung cancer, asthma, heart disease and other
serious illnesses. The air we breathe contains three times more of this pollution than
the World Health Organization says is acceptable. Fortunately, it is a problem with a solution if the appropriate, affordable and long-overdue steps are taken.
This month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency began moving in
the right direction. On July 7, it added $50 million to a plan to
improve air pollution monitoring in low-income communities of color
all over the country. Activists and residents of areas adjacent to the
nation’s inland hubs and seaports welcomed this news because we
continue to suffer from deadly diesel fumes and other contaminants
from the freight sector.
These pollution monitors could mean resources to set new guidelines
that would improve air quality. In order to make the data they collect
effective, the residents of the areas affected — in Kansas City and
elsewhere — need to play a central role in determining what pollutants
to measure, where to place the sensors and how to analyze the data
they collect. Up to now, our communities have paid a heavy price for
having been left out of this all-important decision-making.
Where they do, the instruments are hopelessly outdated. They
cannot detect many of the major contaminants to which residents are
exposed daily. Even where capable monitors are available, state
regulators often prioritize their placement to serve the needs of
industry over local public health concerns.
For these reasons, community organizations such as CleanAirNow, where
I am executive director, began deploying their own air monitors to
track pollution and advocate for much needed reductions in these
harmful impurities. CleanAirNow’s primary scope covers the Kansas City-Overland Park-Kansas City, MO-KS Combined Statistical Area, and Topeka Metropolitan Areas, as well as Kansas’ Brown County, which includes Sac and Fox and Kickapoo reservations.
In Kansas City, Kansas’ Argentine, Armourdale and Turner neighborhoods
lies one of the nation’s largest freight rail hubs and inland ports in
the Midwest. They’re all in Wyandotte County, which has consistently
such as life expectancy.
The residents of communities such as Argentine, where windows were
covered daily with black soot, took it upon themselves to monitor the
daily pollution, while officials refused to see the necessity. The
results found high levels of fine particulate matter or PM 2.5 and
black carbon — which are known causes of respiratory illnesses — among
other contaminants. The project found that diesel exhaust air
pollution levels were high enough to send people to the hospital and
cause premature deaths according to our consulting scientist, Mark
Responding to community pressure based on our air monitoring and data
collection, in 2017 the EPA launched its own KC-Traq Study, the Kansas City
Transportation and Local-Scale Air Quality Study. However, the agency
placed its monitors without guidance from the very people who
initially collected the data. Partnered with the monitoring company
Aeroqual, CleanAirNow now has a network of more than 10 air sensors in
Kansas City that measure PM 2.5 and provide real-time air quality
information. The EPA signed a cooperative agreement to use our
to inform its studies.
When officials wouldn’t take action to make sure our air is
breathable, we equipped ourselves with the knowledge and technical
capacity to do it effectively on our own. While we continue to press
for a central role in measuring air quality, we know that more is
needed. Leadership from the community and organizations such as
CleanAirNow is critical to the success and effectiveness of these
programs to keep everyone safe.
Beto Lugo-Martinez is a Kansas City resident and the executive
director of the 501(c)(3) nonprofit CleanAirNow.https://www.kansascity.com/opinion/readers-opinion/guest-commentary/article253312238.html