September 14, 1999
by Casi Callaway
In March of 1997, a group of concerned citizens came together to organize against the second-largest phenol plant in the world moving into their community. This group, the founders and original members of West Bay Watch, began to focus on increasingly poor air quality, congested roads due to additional trucks, trains and people, and depletion of area water supplies. Faced with too many unwanted changes, the prospect of an additional chemical plant turned citizen concern into action. Information from the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce showed not just one new facility, but the possibility of many new facilities on the horizon. Health research showed Mobile County's facilities are emitting tons of pollutants that are known to make people sick. With this new information, the group expanded to include Mobile and Baldwin Counties and became Mobile Bay Watch, Inc. (MBW)
After two years of full-time dedication from mothers, fathers, young people and retirees, the Mobile Bay Watch name and mission are well known. And MBW has recently taken an important step forward. In September 1998, MBW's board members addressed the Mobile City Council and the County Commission requesting: 1) an independent, cumulative and complete environmental study of Mobile County, and 2) a moratorium on any new polluting industries until that study showed that our health, environment and quality of life were not at risk. Due to timing, the City and County declined to appropriate money for these requests, but began taking MBW seriously.
The timing for 1999 has been very different. After the announcement that Mobile County (and possibly Baldwin County as well) had recorded extremely high and potentially unhealthy ozone readings, the County Commission began voicing support for an Environmental Study. In May of this year, MBW wrote to Mayor Dow and the City Council requesting budget money for the Study. In June, the group met with the Mayor, and by July they had the Mayor's letter of support. Immediately following the Mayor's lead, the Chamber of Commerce, industry and Alabama Power declared support. August has been spent in organizing and meeting with members of the newly established Envision Mobile/Baldwin Air Quality Study Steering Committee.
The Steering Committee was formed under the leadership of the mayor of the City of Mobile, the president of the Mobile County Commission, and the chairman of Envision Mobile/Baldwin, who will serve as co-chairmen. The other members, MBW, The Forum, Alabama Power and the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce, are appointed based on their concern for Mobile County and its citizens and an interest in the mission of the group, and will provide the necessary funding. This group will establish a larger Task Force, charge it to act, and oversee its progress.
The mission established by the steering committee is: to successfully evaluate the existing air quality of Mobile County; to determine a community-based standard for the county's air quality -- a safe, healthy threshold of all significant ingredients of air quality; and to propose and help bring about the necessary actions to achieve and maintain community-based air quality standard.
The steering committee is beginning with the fact that the current quality of Mobile's air, except for ozone, is unknown. The group has a preliminary charge to find a consultant to help measure the ingredients of the air in order to determine a safe and healthy threshold for the community. The next charge will be to determine what, if anything is needed to fix any problems and then help get those changes implemented.
The process being followed in this study -- in fact, the study itself -- is revolutionary. Very few communities across the country have undertaken to determine the health of their air quality and, if this process is done well, Mobile will set a precedent for others to follow. It is critical that this process be worked on with the full cooperation of all sectors of the economy, including industries, utilities, environmentalists, medical doctors, politicians, business leaders, concerned citizens, scientists, educators, and agencies. Support from all of these diverse groups helps ensure that all pertinent issues are addressed, that the process is open, and that decisions are made that reflect the synergistic, best thoughts of all stakeholders.
Once the Envision Mobile/Baldwin Air Quality Study is complete, the community will have a much higher level of understanding of the quality of Mobile's air than has ever been available. MBW is committed to playing an active role in the air quality study and continuing to work toward a moratorium until this study is complete. If you are interested in knowing more about any of the work of MBW, please call 665-1385 or E-mail at Callaway@MobileBayWatch.org.