Toxics Action Center
Toxics Action Center

Toxics Action Center Executive Director Sylvia Broude wins $50,000 public service award

Non-profit led efforts to halt pipeline expansions and make Massachusetts coal-free

Sylvia Broude is the 2018 recipient of the Frank Hatch “Sparkplug” Award for Enlightened Public Service, the highest award granted by the John Merck Fund.

Broude is a Boston resident and is the Executive Director of Toxics Action Center, a public health and environmental non-profit that for over 30 years has operated as the 9-1-1 of the environmental movement, organizing side by side with communities to tackle local environmental threats and develop new leaders for the environmental and social change movements.

John Merck Fund Chair Whitney Hatch said, “Under Sylvia’s direction, the Toxics Action Center has been instrumental in helping local communities and residents become active leaders in closing down the remaining coal-fired power plants in New England and in fighting to stop a major buildout of natural gas in the region.”

Toxics Action Center was inspired into being by mothers of Woburn, Massachusetts, who took action in the mid-1980s to protect the 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 1987, a group of public health and environmental advocates created the Massachusetts Campaign to Clean Up Hazardous Waste—now known as Toxics Action Center—to help residents who faced their own Woburn-like situations. Since those early days, Toxics Action Center has expanded into every New England state, has organized with more than 1,000 neighborhood groups, and directly trained more than 20,000 frontline activists in the skills needed to address local environmental threats.

Today, Toxics Action Center trains activists who are fighting dirty energy in their own communities to become clean energy champions for their states, and works to ensure that the communities hardest hit by pollution have a seat at the table to advocate for clean energy and climate justice.

Mr. Hatch noted, “Toxics Action Center does not aspire to be the leaders in the room. They work behind the scenes to make sure that those most affected by dirty fuels become leaders in promoting a better future for their communities. The goal is not to win one small battle in a single place, but to build lasting capacity in communities throughout the region. Toxics Action Center is steadfast in promoting its organizing model while remaining nimble in applying that model to an ever-changing landscape.”

The Frank Hatch Sparkplug Award recognizes outstanding leaders who have embodied extraordinary creativity, dedication and foresight in their work. The award honors the late Frank Hatch, who was chair of the John Merck Fund from 1987 to 2006.

Broude began her career at Toxics Action Center in 2006 as a Community Organizer in Massachusetts and Connecticut. Her work as an organizer brought her into neighbors’ living rooms, church basements, and library meeting rooms to train local residents facing serious environmental threats in the skills they need to stop pollution and win lasting change for public health and the environment. Broude has worked on nearly 100 campaigns, all while training local activists on the skills they need to become long-term leaders for change.

Broude said, “I couldn’t be more thankful for the lifetime of critical support The John Merck Fund has provided to Toxics Action Center, first under the leadership of Frank Hatch and now, in his legacy. From our early days working alongside community members to address to drinking water pollution in Woburn to our expansion into each New England state, The John Merck Fund has been there with us as partners and investors in our vision of clean air, clean water, healthy, just and vibrant communities, and a stronger people-powered environmental movement.”

In recent years under Broude’s leadership, Toxics Action Center has supported grassroots community efforts to halt fracked gas pipelines, win retirement of Massachusetts’ last remaining coal-fired power plants in Somerset and Holyoke, and clean up emerging drinking water threats. In Boston and statewide, the organization has also built momentum for expanded recycling and zero waste initiatives.

Mr. Hatch added, “Sylvia has brought her considerable energy, enthusiasm, and a deep intelligence to shepherding Toxics Action Center as it has grown into a sophisticated, dynamic and effective organization.”

The John Merck Fund, a longtime funder of Toxics Action Center, created the Frank Hatch Sparkplug award in 2006 to honor its longtime former chairman, Frank Hatch. Whitney Hatch is Frank Hatch’s son.

As Toxics Action Center moves into its fourth decade, the need for local residents to lead on environmental issues in their neighborhoods is as great as ever. The organization continues to work with neighbors who are standing up to multi-billion dollar polluters and some of the biggest fossil fuel companies in the country. As Toxics Action Center pivots activists from single-issue local fights to visionary statewide and national campaigns for long-term change, the impact of so many activists is felt across the Northeast and beyond.

For more information, contact: Ruthy Rickenbacker, 617-747-4362.

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