Toxics Action Center issues environmental leadership awards to local groups opposed to Springfield biomass plant
Springfield, MA – Local residents Michaelann Bewsee, Jesse Lederman, Lee Ann and Stuart Warner, Patti McCauley, Bill Gibson, Ruben Santiago and others are being recognized for their leadership in the effort to protect the environment and the health of people in Springfield and the Pioneer Valley. Members of local groups Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield and Arise for Social Justice have been selected from more than 100 nominees to receive one of Toxics Action Center’s 25 Years of Victories Awards.
Award winners were chosen by a selection committee of distinguished environmental and public health professionals and will be honored at the Environmental Action 2012 conference in Boston on March 3rd. Lois Gibbs of the 1970’s Love Canal toxic cleanup case will hand out the awards and congratulate the winners.
In 2008, a special permit was issued in Springfield to build the state's first construction waste incinerator. This plan, which would have produced a variety of toxic emissions including one ton of lead each year, snuck in under the radar and was proposed within five miles of more than 50 schools and daycare centers.
“When they learned about the plan to burn construction waste, the local leaders of Arise for Social Justice and Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield sprung into action and worked tirelessly to get the word out about the associated health hazards. Already, one in five children in Springfield has asthma – more than twice the rate of the rest of the state,” says Sylvia Broude, Toxics Action Center’s Organizing Director.
Over the last two and a half years, Toxics Action Center has worked with Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield to develop a strategic plan to stop the incinerator proposal from moving forward. Together, they recruited hundreds of residents to attend public hearings on the plan, garner media attention, and build support among local business owners and health organizations. As a result of widespread public concerns, the state adopted a moratorium on the use of construction and demolition waste as incinerator fuel, and in May 2011, the City Council voted 10-2 to revoke Palmer Paving’s special permit. That decision was upheld in a unanimous vote by the Springfield Zoning Board of Appeals in January, and local activists hope it’s a major step towards stopping the biomass burner for good.
“Protecting our community's health was our first priority, but we've really learned how fighting an incinerator in Springfield connects to important work being done around the country-- by local people-- to save our planet," said Michaelann Bewsee, a leader of Stop Toxic Incineration in Springfield. Michaelann is also co-founder and Executive Director of Arise for Social Justice, a Springfield non-profit that organizes around issues directly affecting low-income people: housing, homelessness, health and police brutality, and has been working for the past few years to support the anti-biomass effort.
The 25 Years of Victories Awards recognize 25 of the most successful local efforts to clean up or prevent toxic pollution across New England between 1987 and 2012. Those years correspond with the 25 years that Toxics Action Center, an environmental group based in Amherst, has been working with neighborhoods and community leaders.
Toxics Action Center was inspired into being by the mothers of Woburn Massachusetts who took action to protect their health of their children when the chemical company W.R. Grace contaminated their drinking water. The Woburn leukemia-cluster eventually claimed the lives of 14 children. In response, in 1987 a group of public health and environmental advocates created an organization to help residents who faced their own Woburn situations.
Toxics Action Center – known in those days as the Massachusetts Campaign to Clean Up Hazardous Waste – began organizing citizens to pass ballot initiatives to protect residents from harmful toxic waste. The first initiative increased enforcement and cleanup within Massachusetts’s Superfund system. Now Toxics Action Center has offices in every New England state and works with over 80 communities each year.
"As newbies to environmental issues, we knew we needed all the help we could get, and so we contacted Toxics Action Center,” said Bewsee. “Their organizers are fantastic and they helped us develop and design our campaign in a way that saved us many false steps."
Toxics Action Center has worked side by side with more than 700 communities and directly trained more than 10,000 individuals.
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