Tremont's Clean Air Problems: Grassroots Initiative to Stimulate Changes

Karen Schaefer- As Tremont residents enter a local community center for a meeting on air quality, the air outside smells bad. It smells like rotten eggs with a strong dose of hot metal and a stale undercurrent of bus exhaust. People who live in the Tremont neighborhood say they've had a problem with air quality for decades. It's not surprising, given the heavily industrialized nature of this west side of the Cuyahoga Valley.

Tremont wasn't one of the neighborhoods chosen for the U.S. EPA's one-year program to find quick-fix solutions to air quality issues. Tremont's problem with air pollution is primarily one of quality of life. Local and federal environmental officials say there's no imminent health hazard from the graphite, black soot, and sulfur odors residents contend with every day. But people in Tremont are fed up. And they want the city -- and the federal government -- to know it.

Tremont is home to one of Cleveland's oldest industrial centers, with at least 25 local companies operating under EPA regulations. Those industries include LTV Steel, MetroHealth Medical Center, and a number of machining, chemical, and petrochemical firms. Kyle Dreyfus-Wells is a member of the Tremont West Development Corporation. Her neighborhood group is working with both the city and the Cleveland Clean Air Conservancy to address Tremont's concerns. She says the community already knows the sources of many of its emissions problems. It just needs to document them.

Kyle Dreyfus-Wells- It starts with citizen data collection, but the onus should not be on the citizen to do enforcement and data collection. We can definitely be eyes and ears, we can augment any other activities. But folks have day jobs. You know, people gotta work.

KS- Mark Vilem, chief of the city health department's Division of Environment, admits his staff is too small to deal with the level of monitoring Tremont residents are talking about. Dreyfus-Wells says residents may want to push for more inspectors and for new city regulations that are more sensitive to nuisance complaints. But while some of the neighborhood grime is clearly industrial in origin, not all of it comes from factories. Kevin Snape of the Clean Air Conservancy in Cleveland says at least half of it comes from the area's highways.

Kevin Snape- A lot of this is industrial, but a lot of it's transportation. I mean, they've got 71 and 90 basically quartering Tremont -- they probably have close to 5,000 cars an hour. During rush hour it's probably a lot closer to 10,000 cars an hour. And then heavy-duty trucks use those routes extensively.

KS- Snape says a lot of the black dust found in Tremont air probably comes from the diesel fuel used in most trucks and buses. In fact, the U.S. EPA's air toxins study has specifically targeted diesel emissions as one area where a quick fix might make a big difference. They've suggested retrofitting city buses with cleaner diesel engines. Snape argues the EPA's fix isn't quick -- or cheap -- enough.

KSn- But then it's a question of do you want to spend $5,000 to rebuild an engine to cleaner diesel or do you do something that a number of companies are putting out now -- either bio-diesel or they're putting out, in the case of Lubrizol, they're calling it Purinox, but it's a water-diesel mixture. And all of them burn much cleaner than conventional diesel.

KS- Snape say the new fuels can reduce black particulates by 50%. But until the EPA has approved new diesel fuels, residents will have to be satisfied with re-routing traffic through their neighborhood. At the Tremont West Development Corporation, Kyle Dreyfus-Wells says pressure from residents will keep everyone on their toes.

KDW- So far people are very willing to work. But they want to see action. So if we come back in six months and we haven't moved forward from that meeting that we had a week ago, people are going to want to know why. We need action definitely.

KS- Some of that action may have to come from residents prepared to keep track of smokestack emissions around the clock. In the meantime, planners in Tremont will hold their next meeting to plan strategies for cleaner air on April 10th. In Tremont, Karen Schaefer, 90.3, 90.3 WCPN.

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