Muscatine Iowa Air Quality Forum
by Paul Deaton
understood the influence of prevailing wind, geography and the impact
of the many industrial plants in the area… People seemed resigned to the fact that a life with
middle class problems will go on.“
Within the plume of emissions from Grain Processing Corporation and thirteen other Muscatine County point source emitters permitted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, a group of us met with more than eighty residents yesterday at the Garfield Elementary School Gymnasium to discuss air quality.
HD-80 Representative Nathan Reichert organized the meeting and sent invitations to area residents. The panel consisted of Representative Reichert, Dr. Maureen McCue and myself from Iowa Physicians for Social Responsibility, Patrick O’Shaughnessy from the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health of the University of Iowa, Leland Searles from the Iowa Environmental Council and Jim McGraw of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Air Quality Bureau. The meeting went from 1:00 PM until 4:30 PM and the audience remained engaged throughout. The corporate media was less engaged, with one local television station covering the meeting. He left after 45 minutes and was apparently not there to cover most of the information presented by the panelists.
My participation was brief, framing the discussion after Representative Reichert made introductions and answering a couple of questions at the end. The residents seemed to understand that the air quality in Muscatine is and has been bad for a number of years. There were no real answers to the question “what can we do about it?”
There were other issues on people’s minds. Residents were concerned that the Garfield Elementary School, where the air quality monitor is situated, would be closed and consolidated by the school board. I was asked whether specific community health problems had been caused by emissions from the GPC plant that locked workers out back in 2008 in a contract dispute. Some residents left during the course of the meeting, and at the end about 35 remained to socialize with the panelists and each other before returning home. Residents understood the influence of prevailing wind, geography and the impact of the many industrial plants in the area. They understood that continuing to live in Muscatine may present health problems because of the air quality. People seemed resigned to the fact that a life with middle class problems will go on.
The area surrounding the school includes industry, railroad tracks servicing industry and small houses with about 1,000 square feet of living space. It is a working class neighborhood that seems to be drifting into poverty, where residents have few options to get out. Representative Reichert encouraged them to organize as a community and hopefully they will. Banding together to deal with poor air quality may be their best hope in a world that easily could forget them after the panelists and the PowerPoint presentations are gone. ~Paul Deaton is a native Iowan living in rural Johnson County. Check
out his blog, Big Grove Garden.
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