Toxics Action Center
Toxics Action Center

Communities in Action

Every year, Toxics Action Center works with thousands of residents, in nearly a hundred communities across New England. We organize with neighborhoods for safe drinking water, for clean air, for pesticide-free schools, and dozens of other goals. Here are some stories of the activists we work with.

Bristol Success Story

Moving Towards Zero Waste

“The road was rocky, but eventually the landfill was safely closed, even earlier than we expected, and further environmental risks were avoided.”


The Dangers of Landfills

Unlined landfills are a relic of a past, when we just chucked our old mattresses, household trash, and car batteries into open holes in the ground like old quarries. We know better now! In Vermont, we’ve been closing old unlined landfills for years.

Then, the town of Bristol, Vermont decided to close the old unlined landfill next to the high school, right downtown. Use of the landfill had been going down for years. The town’s original plan was to partner with a big trash company and to take in hundreds of times more waste than the law allows to quickly fill it up before capping it and closing it.

When Sally Burrell, a licensed massage therapist who lived on the dirt road leading down to the old landfill, heard about this, she was astounded. The landfill was old -- there no records of what was down there. And adding all of that extra weight so quickly could be like a rock on top of a sponge, just squeezing out all of the toxins into the ground. Worse yet, the landfill was over a sand and gravel aquifer, so if there was a problem, it could have polluted the entire county’s drinking water aquifer!

“The year unfolded with lively discussions among residents, town officials, business owners, state representatives and lawmakers. The biggest victory was that the community grew stronger by working together.”

Here at Toxics Action Center, we take great pride in empowering citizens and helping them develop into community leaders for the broader environmental and social change movement. From speaking to some of our activists, leaders and volunteers, it’s become clear that Zero Waste is needed. As we close down these landfills, we don’t just want to push the trash off to another community in New Hampshire or Quebec. The real solution is to get better at reduce, reuse, recycle, compost.

Communities like Bristol that have faced toxic landfill threats are best situated to show why universal recycling is needed. And there’s a couple of ways we did this:


How Toxics Action Center Helped

Our Vermont State Director and community organizer, Shaina, helped Sally and others figure out a plan for how to influence the decision-makers to close down the landfill. One of the important resources that Toxics Action Center provides is research and information. Shaina was able to provide information about what leaks out of landfills and why pouring more waste on top of an unlined landfill wasn’t a great idea. We even engaged in citizen science, sending up weather balloons outfitted with special cameras to take 360 degree photos of the landfill as a group and analyzing the results.

Next we networked the group. Toxics Action Center plays a key role in linking up groups with other communities fighting similar campaigns, to share strategy and tactics - and hope! Shaina was able to connect Bristol activists to the broader Zero Waste movement. Like most of the pollution problems we get calls about, this wasn’t the first time we had worked on an issue like this. Through the years, we’ve  worked with several communities that have been fighting landfills such as Moretown, Williston and  Rockingham. We even worked with this coalition and allies to pass the Universal Recycling Law that sets a Zero Waste goal for Vermont -- and we continue to keep the law on track.

More than anything, we work side-by-side with community groups. Most folks have never spoken at a hearing, held a press conference or lobbied their elected officials. Toxics Action Center offers a set of trainings to teach community groups skills that are critical to winning their campaigns -- and  spend time doing these tactics side-by-side the group. In Bristol, this meant not only how to talk to elected officials to get them to act; but also picking up the trash and recycling in town side-by-side with a community member who runs a horse-drawn curbside service downtown! We started to build support in the community, making sure that other residents knew what was at stake and that they spoke up and get their voices heard.

Sally, her neighbors and local stakeholders were concerned and began to investigate further and work more closely with officials. When the trash company attempted to change the law so they could dump the huge tonnage of trash that they wanted, community members submitted testimony at the Committee hearing of the bill, and the law failed.

Big win for Bristol’s health and environment.


As a result, Bristol closed the landfill ahead of schedule, without the additional waste! But it wasn’t over for us just yet. Shaina helped Sally and other activists do a walk through of their town to see what are easy next steps to help Bristol could take to move towards zero waste. They created a great plan with partners in their community like the recreational center, haulers, and the local high school, to help their town achieve each goal -- like opening a composting facility in the high school -- as well as working towards keeping the Universal Recycling Law moving forward.

After working with us on a backyard campaign, some of our community leaders run for local elected office, some become neighborhood watchdogs, and some -- like Sally -- go from stopping a landfill to working for Zero Waste!

Want to find out more about how Toxics Action Center can help you tackle a pollution threat or move towards Zero Waste in your town? Get in touch here.


South Portland’s Success Story

South Portland Activists Take on Big Oil and the Chemical Industry


Big Oil Comes to Town

Canadian tar sands oil is some of the dirtiest in the world. And ExxonMobil was planning to use a World-War-II-era pipeline to pump millions of gallons of the oil through Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, crossing over rivers, the Sebago Lake watershed and right out into Casco Bay, risking nearly all of Southern Maine’s drinking water.

Not to mention the pollution that would be fuming out of two new 70-foot smokestacks built to burn off the toxic gas before loading their product onto tankers in South Portland.

When Rachel Burger, a South Portland resident and new grandmother, heard about all this, she knew someone had to step in to stop it. So she began meeting with some of her neighbors to see what they could do.


How Toxics Action Center Helped

One of the important resources that Toxics Action Center provides to communities is research and information. When there’s a pollution problem or a community wants to take action to be more sustainable, it can be hard to know where to start. So when Rachel connected with our community organizer in Maine, the first thing we did was figure out what was our best strategy for protecting the health of South Portland residents.

Next we networked the group. Already, Toxics Action Center community organizers were working with other towns across New England to stop dirty and dangerous pipelines. We made sure that these newly formed community groups were linked to share strategy, tactics and hope.

Then we got to work. We worked side by side with group members to build community support and win. Most folks have never spoken at a hearing, held a press conference or asked their neighbor to sign a petition.

We worked with the new group, Protect South Portland, to come up with a plan to collect the 1,000 signatures they would need to qualify a question to protect South Portland’s waterfront to be put on the ballot. Together we spent days out in the field working with the community to hit their goal. At the end of the two weeks, almost everyone in town had heard about the issue.


Winning a healthier, cleaner community

The vote was closer than we could have imagined. Even with hundreds of people volunteering to get out the vote to pass the ordinance, in the end the campaign lost by only 197 votes. In all the oil companies had spent $117 per vote they received. They used that money to spread misinformation and buy good-will by purchasing new firetrucks for the city.

Defeated, but not deflated, Protect South Portland regrouped. All our work during the campaign had convinced everyone in the city that the threat of tar sands was serious and they went on to pass the ordinance through the City Council.

“South Portland Maine found itself on the frontlines of a global fight. And when your opponent is a multi-billion-dollar oil company, you need all the help you can get. We are so glad to have Toxics Action Center on our side.” -- Rachel Burger, Protect South Portland

Now realizing the power they have, Protect South Portland have continued to work together with Toxics Action Center to grow and take on new issues. Last year Rachel and her neighbors launched the project “Bees, Bays and Backyards” to successfully pass a ban on toxic pesticides in town. We can’t wait to see what they’ll do next!

Want to find out more about how Toxics Action Center can help you tackle a pollution threat in your town? Get in touch here.


Holyoke Success Story

Holyoke, Massachusetts Neighbors Retire and Redevelop the Mt. Tom Coal Plant


Meet Carlos and Rosa

Carlos and Rosa Rodriguez, members of community group, Neighbor to Neighbor, moved to Holyoke, Massachusetts years ago from Puerto Rico. Carlos works in a restaurant in the city and Rosa is stays civically active, serving on the board of her housing development.

They’re proud of Holyoke. It may be one of the state’s poorest cities, but it also has a really great history as the world’s largest paper producer in the early 20th century. Until recently, the city was home to one of the state’s last coal-fired power plants. Pioneer Valley has some of the worst air quality in the state. Rosa has asthma and so Carlos would take her to the emergency room half a dozen times a year.

One of the biggest causes of asthma attacks? Pollution from the Mt. Tom coal-fired power plant. In five years the coal plant had racked up 2,500 air pollution violations.

Together with Toxics Action Center and local organization Neighbor to Neighbor, Carlos and Rosa founded ¡Action for a Healthy Holyoke! with a mission of making Holyoke more healthy and economically vibrant. Retiring the coal plant, redeveloping the site and retraining the workers was the first step. With the coal plant pollution gone, it gives the city an opportunity to draw better, greener businesses into town.


How Toxics Action Center Helped

One of the important resources that Toxics Action Center provides to communities is research and information. When there’s a pollution problem or a community wants to take action to be more sustainable, it can be hard to know where to start. So the first thing Toxics Action Center’s community organizer, Claire, did was figure out who we should be targeting to ask for redevelopment, retirement and retraining workers.

Claire’s research uncovered that Mt. Tom’s owners was GDF-Suez, they have a local office in Hartford and they hate bad media. GDF-Suez likes to paint themselves as environmentally friendly with a website featuring pictures of wind turbines and solar panels, but Holyoke residents knew all too well how they were not enacting those values in their city.

Together we made a plan draw attention to the dirty coal plant as a big smear on their environmental reputation. The community group members started to call the coal plant “patito feo” or “ugly duckling” in Spanish.

Next we networked the group. Already, Toxics Action Center community organizers had worked with other residents in New England to clean up and close down dirty coal plants.

Claire made sure that Carlos and Rosa were linked up with experts and other community activists to share information, strategy, tactics and hope. ¡Action for a Healthy Holyoke! joined the Mass Power Forward statewide coalition as well, to ask for clean energy solutions to replace Mt. Tom.

Then we got to work. We worked side by side with group members to build community support and win. Most folks have never spoken at a hearing, held a press conference or lobbied their elected officials. Claire trained the group on how to get media attention to pressure GDF-Suez. She coached them through holding community forums, building a coalition of business owners and residents and holding press conferences.


Winning a healthier, cleaner community

Finally, feeling the pressure, GDF-Suez announced Mt. Tom coal plant would be retired. Claire, Carlos and Rosa celebrated, but also got back to work to ask for a just transition for workers and the old coal plant site. In the Fall of 2016 their hard work paid off. ¡Action for a Healthy Holyoke! and Toxics Action Center celebrated at a groundbreaking ceremony for a solar farm at the coal plant site that would power 1,000 homes.

Want to find out more about how Toxics Action Center can help you tackle a pollution threat in your town? Get in touch here.