© 2024 WNIJ and WNIU
Northern Public Radio
801 N 1st St.
DeKalb, IL 60115
Northern Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Biden administration awards millions to help communities monitor air pollution

CF Industries' Donaldsonville Complex, on the west bank of the Mississippi River in southeastern Louisiana, produces ammonia and other chemicals. Credit: Halle Parker, WWNO
Halle Parker, WWNO
CF Industries' Donaldsonville Complex, on the west bank of the Mississippi River in southeastern Louisiana, produces ammonia and other chemicals. Credit: Halle Parker, WWNO

The Environmental Protection Agency will funnel more than $50 million into expanding air monitoring within communities dealing with pollution, according to an announcement on Thursday.

The money will fund 132 projects proposed across the country, including 19 in states bordering the Mississippi River. Officials and advocates said building out community air monitoring will help give residents a clearer picture of what’s in the air they breathe.

In a press conference, EPA Administrator Michael Regan said the move advances the Biden administration’s commitment to invest in areas that have suffered decades of environmental injustice.

Research has shown that low-income, Black, Brown and Indigenous communities are disproportionately exposed to environmental hazards, including toxic air pollution. Communities along the Mississippi River – from New Orleans, La. to Memphis, Tenn. to Wood River, Illinois – host hotspots for pollution. Drawn to the availability of water and easy navigation, manufacturing plants stretch along the entirety of the river’s banks.

“Empowering our communities to gather quality data about the air they breathe will help ensure dozens of overburdened communities have the tools they need to better understand the air quality challenges in their neighborhoods, and will protect people from the dangers posed by air pollution,” Regan said.

About $20 million will come from the 2021 American Rescue Plan, and another $32 million was allocated by the Inflation Reduction Act passed in August, according to Regan.

After years of fighting against pollution from a nearby industrial plant, Robert Taylor, an advocate and resident in St. John the Baptist Parish, in south Louisiana, welcomed the influx of money to improve local air monitoring. His parish will benefit from a $498,000 community air monitoring program led by a New Orleans-based nonprofit, the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice.

“There is before us now the opportunity to alleviate some of the long-term problems we have, that we have struggled against without any kind of positive reaction from any government agency,” Taylor said during Wednesday’s press conference.

In Reserve, La., Taylor and his neighbors have called for Denka Performance Elastomers, a neoprene manufacturing plant, to lower its emissions of chloroprene, a likely carcinogen, since 2016. Though the plant, in coordination with the state Department of Environmental Quality, has lowered its emissions, it hasn’t been enough to reduce residents’ exposure to levels deemed acceptable by the EPA.

Two Louisiana state agencies are currently under a federal investigation by the EPA over whether their failure to lower emissions and inform residents of the chemical’s health risk violate federal law. After going so long without results, Taylor said residents are reinvigorated.

“The onslaught of this chemical industry and its resulting devastation in terms of our health was being ignored, and the people here now do have hope,” Taylor said.

Including Taylor’s community, about $8 million worth of projects were funded in states bordering the Mississippi River.

The money for community air monitoring marks the first grants funded by the Inflation Reduction Act to flow out of the agency, Regan said.

Regan didn’t guarantee that the one-time grants would be renewed, noting that money to continue the air monitoring programs would need to come from another source.

“As we continue to move forward and look at new opportunities down the road, it will depend on which community is capable of applying for what grants in the future that will determine where they get future resources,” Regan said.

This story is a product of the Mississippi River Basin Ag & Water Desk, an editorially independent reporting network based at the University of Missouri School of Journalism in partnership with Report For America and the Society of Environmental Journalists, funded by the Walton Family Foundation.