The Bucket

The EPA-approved “bucket" is a simple, easy-to-use tool fenceline neighbors can operate to take air samples. The data produced from these samples is just as good as monitoring data from the EPA or LDEQ and captures emissions from within the communities most affected. This is a powerful experience for community members who are used to being ignored, overlooked and disrespected by corporations and government.

Dorothy Jenkins, President of Concerned Citizens of New Sarpy, used to call the refinery to complain about odors. An operator would tell her not to worry, that the black plume of smoke billowing for hours near her home was not harmful. Then, Jenkins got an air sample bucket. Now, when refinery managers and government regulators tell her there is nothing to worry about, she answers: "Why, then, was there a benzene reading of 14 in my air sample – a reading that violates the state standards?" The bucket, coupled with participatory training on the chemicals emitted at refineries, as well as state and federal regulations for those emissions, gives community members power to hold institutions accountable to provide a safe and healthy environment.

We train community members to conduct hot spot monitoring with the bucket. They monitor when there is a visible problem in the neighborhood, when they fear they are most at risk of chemical exposure.

This archive photo shows former Norco resident Bessie Smith taking a bucket sample in her yard next to Shell's chemical plant.

The inspiration for an easy-to-use air sampling device came in 1995, when attorney Edward Masry (depicted in the movie "Erin Brockovich") got sick from fumes from a petroleum refinery he was suing on behalf of residents of Contra Costa County, Calif. When he called the local, state and federal environmental authorities, they told him that their monitors detected no problem. This angered Masry, whose clients were being exposed to toxic releases daily. He hired an environmental engineer to design a low-cost device, and the bucket was born.

The bucket is a $75 version of a much more expensive device, a $2,000 summa canister. Air is drawn into a Tedlar bag ($15), a non-reactive plastic, inside the bucket. The valve on the bag is then closed, and the bag is shipped overnight to a laboratory for analysis.

At $500 per sample, the lab analysis is the most expensive part of the operation. The air from the bag is run through a Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer, which compares the "fingerprints" of the sample with the fingerprints of about 100 toxic gases in the computer library.

Working closely with Ed Masry, Denny Larson of Communities for a Better Environment, now director of Global Community Monitor,  promoted the use of the buckets in other communities exposed to toxic air emissions. Larson produced a community manual to educate fenceline neighbors on how to build and operate their own buckets. The manual helped spread the buckets throughout the refinery belt of Contra Costa County in California, and eventually to Louisiana.

The biggest hurdle was getting authorities, who belittled the idea of citizen bucket brigades, to accept the results. Larson met with EPA Region 9 officials, including then-administrator Felicia Marcus, in 1996 and asked the agency to approve and fund bucket air sampling. To its credit, EPA Region 9 invested in a quality assurance evaluation of the bucket results and ended up accepting them. With the EPA approval, Larson was able to work with grassroots groups around the country to launch local bucket brigades.

Although started in California, the greatest success of the bucket has been in Louisiana. The largely African-American community of Mossville in Calcasieu Parish is surrounded by more than 53 industrial facilities, more than 40 of which are located within a 10-mile radius. Tired of being the victims of lackadaisical government enforcement, which tolerated frequent accidental toxic releases, Mossville’s fenceline neighbors organized and began taking samples using the bucket in September 1998.  The first samples detected violations of Louisiana standards for vinyl chloride, EDC and benzene, a carcinogen. Subsequent samples were even worse. One sample found benzene in excess of 220 times the state's standard.

This got the attention of the press and the enforcement authorities. The EPA Region 6 administrator made a public tour of the area. Region 6 moved in with their own monitoring devices that confirmed pollution levels even higher than the buckets had detected. Fines were levied and state-of-the-art fenceline monitoring devices were required of some polluters.

In 1999, Anne Rolfes moved back to Louisiana interested in doing work along Cancer Alley. She immediately learned about success the Mossville community had with the bucket, and was inspired to get buckets to more communities. After trying to get existing organizations to incorporate the bucket as a tool, she realized that there was a need for a new group dedicated to citizen monitoring. She founded the Louisiana Bucket Brigade in 2000. The Beldon Fund, which had been supporting Communities for a Better Environment, wrote the first check to the organization for $50,000.

Pollution has been significantly reduced in Louisiana, all of which stemmed from a few community activists with their buckets.

Communitymembers who live next to oil refineries and chemical plants are constantly told by industry officials that their operations are safe and that the air is healthy to breathe. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality and the federal Environmental Protection Agency often lack appropriate and consistent methods of monitoring air quality – their monitoring stations are often sporadic and don’t all test for the same chemicals. Furthermore, the placement of monitoring stations is a decision made in conjunction with industry, which often pushes for strategic locations that see the least amount of pollution.

While industry offers assurances of safety, they usually lack the data to prove it. Monitoring is the only way to confirm what is in the air.

The bucket is an important tool because people can take samples for themselves and not rely on questionable information from industry and regulators. The Louisiana Bucket Brigade emphasizes the community participatory approach. We do not take the samples ourselves or hire an “expert” to do so. Instead, we train the community to gather the facts for themselves.

Our community led approach has been important in responding to both the BP Oil Disaster and the million-gallon Murphy Oil spill during Hurricane Katrina. In both situations we trained local people to do their own sampling.

Sometimes, high-tech equipment (like the equipment noted below), is a valuable tool. It is a wonderful complement to bucket sampling; once people understand the principles of monitoring, they are prepared to work with and use high-tech equipment. We are currently using hydrogen sulfide monitors in Baton Rouge.

This kind of equipment has two capacities the bucket does not have:

  1. Results are provided immediately, in “real time.”
  2. The equipment can monitor 24 hours a day.
It is important to stay abreast of modern monitoring technology. Below are tools we have used in the past.


Cerex UV Sentry (checks the air for toxic gases)

The CEREX Environmental Services, Inc. UV Sentry air monitoring system is a reliable, compact, portable air monitor. The system is capable of detecting multiple chemicals and can provide immediate readings of the chemicals in the air as well as continuous monitoring. The bucket is used to take a three-minute sample and is like a snapshot in time. The CEREX can take ongoing, continuous samples.

This monitor represents the lowest cost solution for air monitoring at petroleum refineries, chemical companies and environmental sampling stations.

For more information about the Cerex Monitor click here.


DataRam4 (checks the air for particulate matter)

click here to download dataram 4 results.

Ambient Monitoring Stations Air samples collected over a 24-hour period every 6 th day using Summa canisters. Samples analyzed for air toxics using Method TO-15. Minimum detection limits are at or below 0.5 ppb v for each chemical.

DEQ Monitoring Stations

Baton Rouge Capitol Station 
1071 Leesville Ave. 
East Baton Rouge Parish

Bayou Plaquemine Station 
65180 Belleview Road 
Iberville Parish

Southern University Station † 
Near Southern University Law School 
East Baton Rouge Parish

Monroe Airport Station 
Airport Drive 
Ouachita Parish

Pride Station 
Port Hudson Road 
East Baton Rouge Parish

Shreveport Airport Station 
Airport Drive 
Bossier Parish

Rhodia Station † 
Airline Highway 
East Baton Rouge Parish

Westlake Station* † 
2646 John Stine Road 
Calcasieu Parish

Dutchtown Station 
11153 Kling Road 
Ascension Parish

Lighthouse Station* † 
Lighthouse Lane off of Bayou D'Inde 
Calcasieu Parish

*Shared with LAIA. 
† Normal monitoring supplemented by Event Samplers. Event Samplers monitor continuously for hydrocarbons, and trigger an additional canister sample—taken over a 30 – 45 minute period—when total hydrocarbons reach a particularly high level.

Lake Area Industry Alliance (LAIA)/ Calcasieu Special Project Monitoring Stations

Westlake Station* 
2646 John Stine Road

Vinton Station 
Exact location undisclosed

Lighthouse Station* 
Lighthouse Lane off of Bayou D'Inde

Bayou D'Inde Station 
Exact location undisclosed

Mossville Station 
Exact location undisclosed


*Shared with DEQ.

“Air Monitoring… Norco” Monitoring Stations

The following monitoring stations are in Norco , St. Charles Parish, and are operated by Shell (see critique of Shell monitoring).

  • American Legion Hall
  • Old Bethune School
  • Goodhope St. and Airline Highway

PM 10 Monitoring Stations

Particulate samples collected over a 24-hour period every 6 th day using Andersen Instruments PM 10 monitors. Gravimetric analysis used to determine PM 10 concentrations.

Alexandria ? 
Rapides P.H.U. 
1200 Texas Avenue 
Rapides Parish

Port Allen † 
WLUX Radio Station, Hwy 1 
West Baton Rouge Parish

Baton Rouge † 
Evangeline Fire Station 
3142 Evangeline St. 
East Baton Rouge Parish

Shreveport † 
1722 Claiborne St. 
Caddo Parish

Destrehan ‡ 
Amelia St @ River Rd 
St. Charles Parish

Shreveport ? 
Downtown Airport 
1425 Airport Drive 
Bossier Parish

Geismar ? 
Ben Miller's Property 
Hwy 75 
Iberville Parish

New Orleans † 
Water Purification Plant 
8801 Eagle Street 
Orleans Parish

Lafayette ? 
208 Devalcourt St . 
Lafayette Parish

New Orleans † 
City Park 
Florida & Orleans Avenue 
Orleans Parish

Lake Charles ? 
McNeese University 
Common & E. McNeese 
Calcasieu Parish

Monroe ? 
Airport Station 
5296 Southwest 
Ouachita Parish

Luling ‡ 
River Rd at Sugarhouse Rd 
St. Charles Parish


?   State and Local Air Monitoring Stations 
† National Air Monitoring Stations 
‡ Special Purpose Air Monitoring Stations

Other Monitoring Activities

Ad hoc Monitoring

Some amount of monitoring is done specifically in response to chemical spills and releases. What kind of monitoring is undertaken depends on the particular circumstances. It might include

Monitoring with Direct-Reading Equipment

LDEQ Emergency Responders use monitors which give immediate readings for chemical levels.

The Four-Gas Meter detects Hydrogen Sulfide (H 2 S) and Carbon Monoxide(CO) in parts per million (ppm), and flammability and Oxygen (O 2 ) in percent. Below-normal oxygen levels indicate that the oxygen has been replaced by toxic chemicals; in this sense, the Four-Gas Meter indicates the total concentration of toxics in percent (parts per hundred).

Monitors which detect the presence or absence of Ammonia and chlorinated solvents are also routinely used.

Summa Canister Sampling

LDEQ Emergency Responders may also take samples using Suma canisters. These samples are taken over period of a few minutes. Samples are analyzed the same way other Suma canister samples are analyzed, using Method TO-15 to determine concentrations of a range of Volatile Organic Compounds. Chemicals can be detected at low levels (as low as 0.5 ppb V ), but results are not immediately available.

Bucket Sampling

Community members take samples using “Buckets.” Buckets collect samples of air into Tedlar (non-reactive plastic) bags. Samples are taken over a period of 3 to 6 minutes. Like canister samples, bucket samples are analyzed using Method TO-15. Results become available about 10 days after samples are collected.

On-Site Monitoring

Industrial facilities typically have a range of air monitoring programs on their own sites. These might include

  • Continuous Emissions Monitoring (tells how much of particular pollutants are coming out of the facility's stacks).
  • Monitoring for Fugitive Emissions
  • Ambient Air Monitoring (inside the fenceline)

Criteria Pollutants

Ambient levels of Carbon Monoxide (CO), Nitrogen Dioxide (NO 2 ), Ozone (O 3 ), Lead (Pb), Particulate Matter (PM 10 ), and Sulfur Dioxide (SO 2 ) are regulated by the National Ambient Air Quality Standards. The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality monitors ambient concentrations of each of these pollutants at sites throughout the state to ensure compliance with the federal standards.

Because the Baton Rouge area does not meet the standards for Ozone, the LDEQ conducts additional monitoring for Volatile Organic Compounds that are associated with the production of Ozone. The monitoring is conducted primarily in the Baton Rouge area during the summer months, when Ozone levels are at their peak.

When industry spokespeople tell you that nothing harmful was released, that nothing crossed the fenceline, that residents only imagined their health symptoms, or give other assurances after an accident, you should demand proof and ask, “How do you know?” If you are a community member, ask questions, get information, call the media and get your side of the story told. If you are a member of the media, probe the company's statements. Ask them what proof they have that chemicals did not go beyond the fenceline.


  • Ask the company how many toxicologists and community health specialists they have on staff.
  • Ask the company if they took air samples.
    • If the answer is no …
      If the facility did not take air samples, it is important to call them out on their irresponsible, fact-less assurances. Absent any samples, the only facts are the experiences of the community members.
    • If the answer is yes …
      If the company claims to have taken air samples or paid a contractor to do so, it is important to get the results and ask questions about the samples.
  1. What chemicals does the equipment test for? If the equipment only tests for a few chemicals, they probably missed a whole range of chemicals that might have gone into the community. Compare what they tested for with the company's Toxic Release Inventory
  2. What chemicals did you test for in the samples that were taken? 
  3. What are the detection limits of the equipment you used?Industry often samples to detect chemicals at parts per million or higher levels of exposure. Such samples will not capture chemicals present at lower levels, such as parts per billion. The Environmental Protection Agency has health screening levels at the level of parts per billion, and industry sampling should reflect this.
  4. What time did the accident/incident/upset occur?
  5. What time were the samples taken? This will help you determine if the facility took samples so long after the release that chemicals might have dispersed.
  6. What was the wind speed at the time of the release and which direction was the wind blowing? If the wind direction or wind speed at the time of the sampling is different from the time of the release, then the sampling data does not give an accurate picture of how the release may have traveled to the community.
  7. Where were the samples taken? If the samples were not taken adjacent to the facility and were taken far from the release, the results will not give an accurate picture of the release.
  8. At what addresses in the neighborhood were the samples taken? If they cannot provide detailed information about where in the community the samples were taken, then the samples did not facilitate understanding of community exposure or impacts to the neighborhood.

Get the following information:

  • Results of the samples
  • Meteorological data
  • Descriptions of the equipment used to take the air samples, including information about detection limits and the chemicals it can test for
  • The company's report to the local Emergency Planning Commission.*
  • The company's seven-day letter to the Department of Environmental Quality.*

*These are the government agencies in Louisiana with which the facilities are legally required to correspond. Communities outside of Louisiana should determine which agencies in their area are responsible for this information.

Concerned about air quality in your neighborhood?

There are steps you can take to help make it happen:


If you are concerned about what's in your air, chances are that your family and neighbors are, too. Identify people in your community who are interested in being trained as air samplers, as well as people who would be willing to alert your group when a bad odor is in the air.

Once you have an interested group together, call the Louisiana Bucket Brigade (504-484-3433). We will work with you to organize a bucket brigade in your community!


Facilities looking for ways to be “Good Neighbors” should be willing to provide resources for:

Community-Led Air Monitoring
Companies can contribute to community monitoring by helping communities purchase high-tech hand-held monitoring equipment or funding laboratory analysis of samples, including bucket samples.

Fenceline Monitoring
Fenceline monitoring systems can produce more complete data than any hand-held monitoring device – they can detect concentrations of hundreds of individual chemicals in real-time. These systems are beyond the reach of communities alone because they're costly and require experts to calibrate and maintain them. However, a motivated company willing to work in conjunction with the surrounding community could set up fenceline monitoring — one refinery in California has already done so.

Ask The Hard Questions
You think a release has affected your community. Government and industry officials say there's nothing to worry about. Find out what evidence they base this claim on. Ask:

How Do They Know?
• What monitoring equipment did they use to determine how hazardous the situation was?
• What do the monitors detect? At what levels?
• Who did the monitoring? Where and when?
• At what level would they have considered the situation dangerous?

Routinely asking these questions of agency and industry representatives will make everyone more aware of the importance of monitoring.

LABB Text Alerts

Contact Us

Louisiana Bucket Brigade
2803 Saint Phillip Street
New Orleans, LA 70119

 (504) 484-3433
 (504) 324-0332
 info (@)