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The Freedom Breathers Student Air Monitoring in Pittsburg


In January of 2015, a group of concerned Pittsburg High School
students and teachers formed a group called The Freedom Breathers
to monitor air quality conditions in our city. Over the course of several
months, we used two MiniVol Portable air samplers to test our air for
diesel and PM 2.5. We collected samples at two locations: the high
school and a home on W. 11th St., near the PG&E storage facility.
While we are not yet prepared to present all of our data, our preliminary
results have shown at least one PM 2.5 reading above the 24-hour
standard for PM 2.5 determined by the World Health Organization. Furthermore, the
average of all five diesel samples taken at the high school was above the annual standard for
diesel pollution set by the World Health Organization and the United States
Environmental Protection Agency.

Pittsburg residents already suffer a disproportionate amount of asthma (see table below).

Diesel pollution is a known carcinogen. Long-term exposure is associated with cardiovascular

problems, lung cancer, and bladder cancer. Exposure to high levels of PM 2.5 is associated
with irritation of the airways, irregular heartbeat, nonfatal heart attacks, decreased lung
function, irritation of the airways, coughing, aggravated asthma, and even premature


According to the Toxic Release Inventory published in 2012, there are roughly 37 hazardous
emitters in Contra Costa County. While not all of these facilities are in Pittsburg, the wind
patterns in the county move from inland to the coast and from the west to east. Since most
industries are to the west of Pittsburg, much of their pollution reaches our town and its
At least five of those hazardous emitters are located within the city of Pittsburg and emit
pollutants such as heavy metals, ammonia, benzene and other volatile organic
compounds, gaseous chlorine, nitrate compounds, and acids. However, this measure of
the number of polluters is in some ways an underestimate as it does not take into account the
idling of truck or trains that pour diesel into our air.


From 1968 to 2008, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) had a functional
air monitoring station in Pittsburg. According to BAAQMDs 2008 monitor network report, the
Pittsburg station was discontinued in 2008, due to increased rent at the monitor site and
redundancy with the Concord monitor.
We dispute the claim that the Pittsburg monitor is redundant, because the data collected by the
Pittsburg monitor is not duplicative of the Concord monitor data. BAAQMDs publicly available
data for 2008, the year the Pittsburg monitor was discontinued, shows that Pittsburg maximum
pollution values were higher than those measured in Concord for all five criteria
pollutants measured. That same year, average yearly pollution levels were higher in
Pittsburg than in Concord for three of the five criteria pollutants measured.
The absence of a government monitoring station in Pittsburg leaves our government unable to
protect its citizens from the health risks associated with poor air quality. (See picture below.)

Emitter and air monitor distribution in Contra Costa County. White bubbles indicate emitters,
green bubbles show active BAAQMD monitors, and the red bubble shows where the missing
monitor should be placed.


WESPAC The City Council should not allow the WesPac project to proceed. Eliminating the
crude-by-rail aspect of the project does not significantly mitigate the negative impacts of
potential oil spills, and standing crude, ships, and terminal operations will negatively affect air
quality by releasing toxins into the air.
PERMANENT MONITORING STATION We urge the City Council to appeal to BAAQMD to
install a permanent air monitor in Pittsburg so that local air quality can be rigorously monitored.
While we have learned much from our experience, it is the role of the government, not a group
of high school students, to make sure that this data is collected and ensure the health and
safety of the public.