25th Anniversary of Founding of Mothers for Clean Air: Reflections from Members of AAH Board of Directors
In 2008, two Houston-area clean air advocacy organizations — Mothers for Clean Air (MfCA) and Galveston Houston Association for Smog Prevention (GHASP) — merged to become GHASP/MfCA, whom you now know as Air Alliance Houston. While GHASP was focused on reducing air pollution by leveraging data, MfCA focused on community engagement and education. Today, AAH sits at the intersection of research, education and advocacy to reduce air pollution and improve public health.
Last month, we celebrated the 25th anniversary of MfCA, which filed as a 501(c)(3) outreach and advocacy non-profit organization in October, 1996. MfCA began by operating on volunteer support, small grants and individual contributions until a grant from the Houston Endowment enabled them to hire the first full-time Executive Director, Jane Laping (2001-2008).
Laping, Jane – Laping audio, 1 of 2 University of Houston July 20, 2006 November 8, 2021 https://digital.lib.uh.edu/folder/houhistory/item/975/show/975
MfCA emphasized community education on air quality, its effects on health, and ways to reduce air pollution and exposure. Interactive outreach activities at schools, churches, science fairs, museums, and community events engaged children, teachers and parents with information about Houston’s air challenges.
I had Jane [Laping] come to my kids’ preschool, Beehive, to talk about nontoxic cleaners. It was a co-op and the parents not only worked with the kids, but were responsible for cleaning the school after each morning they worked. The cleaners hurt my lungs so I knew it wasn’t good for the kids either. We were successful in convincing the director to convert the school to nontoxic cleaners.
— Lauren Salomon, AAH Board Member
MfCA had five individual chapters focused on empowering residents to identify, prioritize and take action to solve their environmental problems: Fifth Ward, Barrett Station, Woodlands Acres, SE Houston, and Spring Branch/Memorial.
Highlights from our Archives…
Air Quality Education and Awareness
MfCA provided outreach at Earth Day and other local events soon after organizing. Girl Scout puppeteers often helped attract visitors to the booths which showcased educational materials, displays, and other activities.
In 2006, MfCA initiated Earth Day 5K in Bellaire and moved it to MacGregor Park in 2008 and then to downtown Houston in 2009 and 2010. This 5K event eventually grew into Earth Day Houston, hosted by MfCA and later AAH until 2016. Today, the event is organized by an AAH partner, the Citizens’ Environmental Coalition.
MFCA started the first Earth Day 5K. It became an annual event, eventually growing into the Earth Day Festival. I was pretty proud of that!
— Lauren Salomon, AAH Board Member
In conjunction with the Festival, MfCA established an annual Earth Day Art Auction. The art, created by students, would be placed in a contest then auctioned off to support education outreach programs and to provide scholarships to local schools and students. The contest expanded and continued until 2017.
Between 2000-2016, MFCA educated students about air quality issues at the Science and Engineering Fair of Houston. Volunteers judged Middle and High School projects related to Air Quality, encouraging students to study environmental problems, and presenting special awards on behalf of the organization.
Initially, ozone was the most prominent air quality topic and students developed some impressive projects, such as creating their own sampling devices to test the air in their neighborhoods. Projects shifted over time to include topics such as impacts on lungs from indoor chemicals or smoking, particulate pollution, and more recently to climate change and solutions like improved battery capacity for solar applications…
— Lucy Randel, AAH Board Member
In 2000, in collaboration with University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston, MfCA launched “Ozone Theater,” a one-of-a-kind interactive K-5 classroom module that introduced concepts of air quality and actions that children can take for their own health. The program received an EPA “Clean Air Excellence Award” in 2007.
Ozone Theater was a type of “guest speaker” special event for kids in schools that allowed kids to learn about the health effects of air pollution — but to do so through play and repetition. We worked hard to get into Houston-area classrooms, and by 2016 we were serving over 6,000 students in Houston and surrounding areas.
— Tifani Pust, MfCA/AAH Educational Programs Director, 2009-2015
From 2004 to 2007, MfCA implemented Indoor Air Quality Tools for Schools in 40 of 46 Spring Branch ISD schools and 30 HISD schools. This EPA funded program provided school teachers, maintenance and custodial staff with information to identify and control sources of indoor pollutants.
In 2001-2002, Community Organizer Linda Block played a lead role in the first Houston-Galveston Citizen Air Monitoring Project (H-GCAMP) training where citizens learned to take air samples in their communities for analysis by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Check out the Chron.com’s reporting on the beginnings of this project:
“Teams of people representing various southeast neighborhoods will be responsible for ‘Bucket Brigades,’ air testing accomplished by volunteers at the time the foul air is being reported.
“Designated ‘sniffers’ will report the air nuisances to the volunteer who is in charge of collecting air samples.”
MDI Superfund Site
In 2001, the Fifth Ward Chapter of MfCA received an EPA Grant to support the community’s engagement in the EPA’s remedial decision-making process concerning the Many Diversified Interests (MDI) superfund site — a 36-acre abandoned steel castings and catalyst recycling operation contaminated with lead and other heavy metals directly across from Bruce Elementary School in the Fifth Ward.
The MDI site was a top local concern and so our organization applied for the grant as a way to share information about the site with the community and include community feedback in the remedial decision-making process for EPA.
— Jane Laping, Executive Director of Mothers for Clean Air
Community engagement around the MDI site included “Restricted Area,” a one-act play telling the story of the real-life hazardous waste site. The play was presented in Houston and at the EPA Community Involvement Conference in Buffalo, NY.
AAH is glad to continue the work of MfCA and build upon their ideals of community education and environmental justice.