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Fighting for Clean Air in Oklahoma ~ An Interview with Lisa Sharp

Lisa Sharp is a freelance writer, social media marketer and environmental activist, living in a small town in Oklahoma. She has a blog called Retro Housewife Goes Green and runs a website called Green Oklahoma.  Lisa and I have been online friends for a few years, which in internet time equates to forever.  So when I saw Lisa talking about a local cement plant, air pollution, and the subsequent health effects on Facebook, I told her I’d love to interview her for the Moms Clean Air Force

How did you become interested in and first learn about the pollution coming from the local cement plant?

Around 1992, I would have been five, the cement plant tried to get a permit to burn hazardous waste and my grandmother was very active in fighting it. They won that fight so I didn’t think about it much until I became more active in the environmental community. A few years ago I was at a sustainability conference listening to Earl Hatley and I ended up talking to him about the cement plant and it turned out he had been apart of the fight against the plant in 1992. The things he told me sparked my interest and I started researching cement plant pollution more. 

Please give us a summary of the environmental problems caused by the cement plant.  What pollutants are released? Are current emissions standards being exceeded?

After the cement plant lost the battle to get a hazardous waste burning permit they started burning tires. As of a few years ago there were only nine wet-process cement plants burning tires in the U.S. Seven of the nine are in violation of the pollution limits, set by the Clear Air Act. Three are high-priority violators. One of these three plants is the plant in my town. In 2005 they violated the pollution limits more than 1,000 times in one year. They were only fined $321,000. Last I checked they were currently in violation as well.

Some of the toxins the plant puts off include ammonia, benzene, certain glycol ethers, chromium, diethanolamine, dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, ethylene glycol, lead, manganese, mercury, sulfuric acid, and zinc compounds. Cement plants are the third largest contributor of mercury emissions. 

How has your own health and/or your family’s health influenced your environmental activism?

I personally have asthma, as do my mom and brother. My mom’s asthma was very severe when I was young and we were living 0.7 miles from the plant. While many things played a role in her asthma being so bad, we believe one of those things was the cement. Since they have moved from that house, out of town, she has been much better. My asthma was better when living outside of town as well and once I moved back to town, now 2.5 miles from the plant, my asthma has gotten worse. 

I also have many friends that are quite young but already are battling cancer. My town’s cancer rates are above the state average, which is above the national average. I’m tired of seeing my friends sick and dying and knowing there is this plant pumping tons of cancer causing chemicals into our air.

Has the pollution from the cement plant been linked to local health issues?

Officially, no. But as I said our cancer rates are high. I also believe our autoimmune illness rate is high but haven’t been able to research this yet. Many doctors in town have commented on Ada’s cancer rate and citizens are starting to also question this. Benzene is one of the toxins that the cement plant puts off in large amounts and it’s been shown to cause cancer so it’s hard not to question a link. And benzene isn’t the only cancer causing chemical the plant puts off.

Have your local politicians become involved in this issue?

No. There is a city council member in Tulsa that is fighting the cement plant there on burning hazardous waste but that is the only politician I know of. And he is not being well received by others in Tulsa. That will be a very big fight.

What are you hoping will happen? What would be your ideal outcome?

Many people have this idea that I’m trying to get the cement plant closed down, but that’s not the case. I know they are one of the largest employers in my town and that it was cost the city jobs and money that we can’t afford to lose. Also at this time we need cement, I don’t want to close our plant just to end up with another city polluted to make the cement we were making. 

I would love to see the plant follow the current laws and for the laws to be made stronger. I also would like the burning of tires and hazardous waste by cement plants made illegal. This is where a lot of the emissions come from so this would cut them a lot. More scrubbers and other improvements that would help pull out the toxics would be nice as well. The biggest thing for me though, is to first get them to follow the law.

What advice would you give to someone who is interested in becoming an environmental activist?

Don’t do it! Just kidding. It is a very hard job and one that is often thankless but it can also be the most rewarding job you can do. You don’t have to take on a big company like I’m doing. I started by joining my local recycling coalition, I’m currently a board member. Simple things like that can really help your community be a better place. 

More about cement plants from Lisa:

I’d like to thank Lisa for sharing her fight for clean air with the Moms Clean Air Force.  As Lisa said, her goal is to have the cement plant follow current emission standards and she thinks emissions standards need to be strengthened. 

Please join the Moms Clean Air Force in our fight to strengthen clean air standards and protect our children’s health.

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800,000 Voices for Clean Air

Three years ago, I remember having a “light bulb moment.”  I was sitting in my environmental law class, the first class in my environmental education program (my second MS).  I was taking notes in black pen on my repurposed notebook, learning about how a bill becomes a law and listening to my professor talk about the comment period.

I remember thinking that I had never learned this before.  I’m sure at some point in my education I was supposed to learn it, but to be honest I was much more interested in things like studying the cartilaginous skeleton of sharks, adding insect species to my entomology collection, tracing the evolution of placental viviparity, and the genetics of Przewalski’s horse.  I kid you not, those were my passions and college.  I didn’t see how US law was connected to the natural world.  But then suddenly, years later, I got it.

I could do all I want on my own to protect everything I love about the natural world.  I could stop dying my hair, make my own cleaners and read every environmental book since Silent Spring, but that wasn’t enough.  If I wanted to affect real change on a large-scale, I had to get politically active and advocate for legally protecting the environment.  I had to speak up and make sure others were listening.

Now, I am so proud to play a role in the environmental movement at the political level.  I’m thrilled to be one of over 800,000 people who made their voices heard and contacted the EPA about the new Mercury and Air Toxics Rule.  I hope that my writing for the Moms Clean Air Force encouraged even a small fraction of those 800,000 people to speak up for the health of our atmosphere and the air that our children breathe.  Thank you to everyone who contacted the EPA, and congratulations on taking a stand on protecting our environment. 

The EPA is going to consider all the comments and release the final Mercury and Air Toxics Rule by November 16.  This doesn’t, however, mean that our work is done.  It’s only the beginning of the road to clean air.

I was thinking about that class in environmental law today, and how I should email my professor to thank her for starting me down this path.  As a teacher myself, I know how much she’ll appreciate hearing from me.

Please join the Moms Clean Air Force to help us fight for clean air for our kids. Thank you!

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Contact Your Reps Now!

By Dominique Browning of the Moms Clean Air Force

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I don’t want to nag, though we all know moms are great at that. But I’m going to remind everyone that as of Monday, August 1, we have only FOUR MORE DAYS to write to the EPA  in support of their NEW Mercury and Air Toxics Standards. This regulation will cut down the poisonous emissions from coal-fired electric plants. Fetuses, infants and toddlers are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of toxic coal pollution.

Pro-polluters have been working overtime to cut funding for the EPA and block anti-pollution regulations. They’re spending millions of dollars on lobbying and campaign contributions–to protect their right to pollute!

Motherhood is powerful too.  We have to make our voices heard.

Someday your children will thank you. Right now, you have to fight for them. My A Number One Reason will always be the same: my two beloved sons, for whom I will always fight like a mama bear, Alex and Theo. I’ll bet you feel the same way about yours.

Here is a GREAT REASON to write to the EPA now.

1.  YOUR VOICE MATTERS. No politician wants to make a mom mad. The EPA needs to hear that you want it to protect your right to clean air. Sometimes being a great mom means being an active citizen.

2.  WE’VE MADE IT EASY–AND YOU CAN FIND THE TIME. It is faster to write to the EPA than it is to change a diaper. Sometimes being a great mom means being an active citizen. Make your voice heard!

3.   POLLUTION CONTROL MEANS MORE JOBS. Green jobs are rising dramatically. Retrofitting coal stacks with scrubbers means more jobs for people in the industry–and a stronger industry overall.

4.   HOW DARE THEY HARM OUR BABIES! Fetuses, infants and toddlers are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of toxic pollution. Childhood cancers are on the rise. So are asthma attacks.  Pregnant women are warned against eating tuna fish because it is full of mercury. And polluters keep on fighting for their right to pollute.

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Hood Health

During a recent Moms Clean Air Force twitter chat: African American Asthma Rates and What Moms Can Do About It (listen to a related MCAF podcast here) , I was intrigued to learn about C’BS ALife Allah and his Hood Health Handbook. It truly is a small world, because when I read C’BS ALife Allah’s tweets about community outreach, I realized he was talking about my area.  Sure enough, Hood Health is based here in Connecticut! I’m so excited to share an interview with C’BS ALife Allah today!

Can you please tell me a little bit about what Hood Health is?

Hood Health is acknowledging that there are health disparities that are rooted in race. This includes, yet is not limited to, issues of poverty, environment, access to service and dissemination of information. In acknowledging all of the above what Hood Health seeks to do is identify these disparities and repackage the delivery of the message so that those who are in most need of the message actually receive it and are able to comprehend it.

How did you get the idea for Hood Health?

The idea for Hood Health came about from my own experiences. I grew up with asthma. When in high school I got off of dairy and was able to go on and become all state in Track and Field. I saw that one element change made a huge difference. I started to then see what else could I do to reach my own personal potential. In college I became exposed to the vegan movement yet it was clearly from a White perspective. Though I could see some issues that definitely addressed health in the hood I also still saw racial issues of racism and entitlement not being dealt with. I also saw that the presentation, for all intents and purposes, was too ‘corny’ for my peers. They don’t want to eat form of tofu or granola yet they would down a good plate of rice and bean or savory soup.

How did your parents and/or children influence your choice to start Hood Health?

My mother and father both grew up on the farm. My father is 89 and grew up in Kentucky. My mother grew up picking cotton in Arizona. They were very conscious of the difference in the quality of farm food vs the fast food that started to be pushed on the youth in the 80’s. I was fortunate to taste farm grown vegetables while growing up. It made me reflect on how many of my own peers have never tasted farm grown veggies or meat so they have no frame of reference to compare the junk that they are eating nowadays to. They instilled in me quality in what we put in our body. Also they both passed down to me countless home remedies that definitely work.

My son reminds me to not skimp on quality. He reminds me that we have to pass this knowledge down. We can’t afford to let corporations, big business, etc. destroy the traditional centers of health and wellness. They don’t have our best interests at heart.

How has the community received Hood Health? Can you tell me about some successes?

I am constantly humbled by the response that it has gotten. Even from its inception it was blessed. Dick Gregory, the noteworthy Black activist and health advocate agreed to write our intro when he found out what the book was about. He realized that the message of health had to be repackaged for a new generation. It also made me realize that most people do not have this information. When we clean ourselves up and review this stuff all of the time we tend to start to think of it as ‘common sense’ yet this is not the case at all. Thus the ones who have the information forget the art of speaking to the people. As a result of our push we are at the point of setting up several Hood Health conferences next year in Oakland, Houston, and Boston. The people are the one who made that decision.

What would you tell someone who wants to get involved in community health or environmental activism but doesn’t know where to begin?

That is such a multi-faceted question because it is so different from community to community. There is definitely a lot of room for people to develop programs and reach the people. Of course I say that our book is a good place to start. In addition start with people who are doing some of the work. Find the farmer’s market and build with the farmers. Do a search on environmental racism and see if there are organizations in your town or area. Sometimes one of the simplest things that we can do is get information out. Merge health information with whatever you are doing and wherever we go whether it is a party, barbershop, etc.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

Health is a natural right that shouldn’t be denied due to any type of disparity. The greatest open secret is that the tools to improve our health and wellness have always been right in our grasp. It just depends on a change of perspective and people coming together.

Please join the Moms Clean Air Force to help us fight for clean air for our kids. We need your voice! If you haven’t already, please email the EPA to show your support of the new Mercury and Air Toxics rule. Thank you!

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Call for Participation!

Two big events this week:

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First, join @MomsCAF with special guests @FarmDaughter and @Non_Toxic_Kids for MCAF Twitter Chat: Finding Time for Activism on Wednesday, July 13, 2011 at 9:00 PM EST.  Prizes include three copes of The Family Table, a Beaba Feeding Set donated by The Soft Landing and a Diva Cup donated by Diva International!  Follow the hashtag #MCAF.  Register here.

Then, I’m hosting the July Green Moms Carnival with the topic of FOOD PRESERVATION!!! Recipes, reflections, tips and tutorials all welcome! Send me your post by Thursday 7/14 to be included! Carnival goes live here on Monday 7/18.

Two great groups of moms, but we welcome everyone to join in!

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Celebrating 365

Years, that is!

Cross-posted at Moms Clean Air Force

My family’s farm, Rose Orchards, is celebrating 365 years of continuous farming by the Rose family.  We’re having a great big celebration on July 23, with lots of events and activities for family fun.

I love to think about what life was like in those early days, back in the mid-1600′s.  Life was surely much harder, but families were much more self-sufficient and lived sustainably.  I imagine that their biggest concerns were to grow, harvest and put by enough food, chop enough firewood, and make enough warm clothes to last throughout the long, cold New England winter.  Growing crops, raising animals, canning, sewing, knitting, crocheting, other handcrafts, fermenting, drying food, cooking and baking were means of survival, not the spare-time hobbies of today. 

Was it less or more stressful to live back then? I often wonder, as I can see both sides.  On one hand, they didn’t have to worry about climate change, polluted air, polluted water, depletion of fossil fuels, endangered species, population control, and other contemporary environmental concerns.  On the other hand, there was a constant need to provide for yourself and your family, prepare for cold weather, and the aspects of life beyond control: drought, or floods, illnesses, injuries, infection, never quite knowing if you’ve split enough wood or put away enough hay.  Though my ancestors’ daily activities were much more strongly tied to their survival than my own, I think their lives were harder and maybe more stressful, in a different way, than my present-day experience.

As my family gears up to celebrate 365 years of Rose family farming, I find myself so thankful to have grown up in this place.  I’m thankful to each of the thirteen generations for keeping the farm going, reinventing it so it can survive and be passed down.  I love to listen to stories from my parents and grandparents, and I miss talking to my great-grandmother.

And so, when I think about what role I will play in keeping the farm alive for another generation, I know it’s different but still important.  I no longer live on the farm, though it’s a few minutes away and we visit often.  I don’t spend my days working on the farm or contribute to the family business in any measurable way.  But yet, I love it.  I am connected to that land in a way that many people can’t understand. 

I fight for family farms with my dollars, my votes, and my blog.  I know, admire, and support my local farmers.  I frequent farmer’s markets.  I contact my representatives when I see threats to family farms, and I vote accordingly.  I am an environmental activist, in essence, because I love family farms and I see that they are hit particularly hard by environmental problems like pollution of our air, water and soil.  If I stand up to polluters and demand that my representatives do the same, then I am standing up for family farms.

Please join the Moms Clean Air Force to help us fight for clean air for our kids. We need your voice! If you haven’t already, please email the EPA to show your support of the new Mercury and Air Toxics rule. Thank you!

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Clean Air Community

One of the reasons that I joined the Moms Clean Air Force was to become part of a community who cares about the health of our atmosphere and how that impacts our children’s health.  I realized that there’s only so much a single person can do, only so many steps that I’m able or willing to take on my own to reduce my impact on the environment.  I need to band together with other like-minded people and form a connected community online. 

I’ve discovered a huge clean air community through social networking sites! In just a few months, I’ve learned so much, had interesting discussions, signed petitions, and learned more about how clean air legislation can be strengthened to protect our children.  Here’s how I’ve connected:

Facebook

Twitter

Events

  • The Moms Clean Air Force also has online events! The next one is on Monday, June 27, at 10am EST: “MOMS CLEAN AIR FORCE BLOGTALK RADIO: Soaring Rates of Asthma Among African-American Kids and What Moms Can Do About It.” Find details and RSVP here. I’ll be there and I look forward to listening and chatting with attendees!
  • More events, including a twitter party that I’m helping to organize, are in the works!

Blogs

Latest posts from the Moms Clean Air Force Bloggers:

Our new badge! Add it to your side bar to show that you care about clean air and healthy kids!

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What are some of your favorite Clean Air Communities? Have I missed any? Please share in the comments!

Please join the Moms Clean Air Force to help us fight for clean air for our kids. We need your voice! If you haven’t already, please email the EPA to show your support of the new Mercury and Air Toxics rule. Thank you!

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