Counter Culture Labs:Environmental Justice Project

From Counter Culture Labs

Environmental Justice Project Group Page

  • contact: Zach Smith, Project Organizer -
  • goal: to identify and address social inequities within our local community as they relate to the consequences of human activity and climate change, with a general interest in water, air, and soil quality
  • main function: to assist in community efforts to address aforementioned inequities, coordinating with local organizations and stakeholders to identify relevant and efficacious efforts for us to participate in

History of the group: started in August of 2022 By Zach Smith, the goal of the group was initially to identify and implement novel diagnostics and solutions to water, air, and soil quality issues. Many of our early meetings were spent attempting to create an investigative framework, which we required more conversations with both the affected communities and researchers currently working towards these goals. We thus spent time trying to find relevant community stakeholders and current community scientists working in environmental justice to have those conversations. We now work with those organizations to plan future public environmental justice events while continuing to pursue the investigation of novel solutions

previous workshops:

2/04/23 Temescal Creek Bacterial contamination monitoring

  • members of the lab teamed up to test water quality of local creek, Temescal Creek, at various points using R-cards to test for relative contamination of common bacteria. It is common public understanding that the public bodies of water in the East Bay are likely too contaminated to sustain any community uses (fishing, recreation, local gardening/irrigation, etc.). Considering water is only becoming more precious in the US southwest, diagnosing and solving contamination in public bodies of water will only become increasingly important. while R-cards do not provide diagnostics quantitative enough to give grounds for immediate action, our hope is that this study will at least help build the argument for further action, while demonstrating the effectiveness of investigating microbial presence and implications in addition to inorganic pollutants.

what are R-cards?: Map of Temescal Creek and the points from which we took samples Above: Map of Temescal Creek and the points from which we took samples

  • pictures of R-cards were taken approximately 72 hours after a single droplet of sample was placed on card. cards were incubated at 30C.
  • takeaways: clearly, Temescal Creek is not without contamination. While these R-card do not give quantifiably actionable results, they do indicate that further testing could elucidate additional issues, and the community needs to be wary of attempting to use the creek or its water. While further testing is beyond the current capabilities of our lab, it is our hope that other organizations with the means either take this on themselves or are open to collaborate with us on further testing.

Summer DIY home water quality testing workshop

  • members of the lab and local community members brought hot and cold water samples from their home, which we tested for common pollutant contamination using three different online-purchased water quality testing strips, comparing the efficacy of each test in the process. As of right now, citizens who are concerned about their home water quality must send in samples to local government entities for testing, which is a time consuming and opaque process that may not ultimately lead to any solutions. We hope to elucidate the efficacy of cheaper home methods while beginning to make the case for increased surveillance of home water quality.

what tests did we use:

Link to data table: data was collected using hot and cold home water samples from 5 volunteers, as well as hot and cold samples from additional sources from 1 volunteer's home.

  • takeaways: Due to the small sample size, this was more demonstrative of the relative capabilities of each test strip, but we hope to continue validating these test strips to determine the best one to later use in a larger scale workshop, which we would aim to capture more data points to determine more about the relative water quality of our community's home water supply. The test strips themselves displayed results that indicated some unspecific level of contamination in our home water, demonstrating both the need of the average citizen to have cheap and readily available testing solutions as well as the current lack of a viable standard for home testing in the commercial industry.

Possible Novel Solutions to Investigate (once funding is secured)

  • biosensors to proactively monitor for HABs
  • making novel instrumentation to specifically diagnose water, soil, and air pollution and contamination
  • increased microbiome monitoring for both microbiome health information and for identification of novel microbes
  • engineering novel microbes or enzymes to metabolize common pollutants and useful biomolecules

As current environmental justice efforts and resources are constantly evolving, please reach out to Zach Smith directly for information on current efforts and resources happening in your local community.