Dozens of environmental activists gathered in Linsly-Chittenden Hall on Saturday for the state’s largest conference on toxics and public health. The Toxics Action Center, which organized the meeting, presented an award to the Yale Greencorps organization for its efforts in the long-running “Filthy Five” campaign and commitment to environmental activism.
The event presented a variety of workshops, including how to write successful grants and discussions of dangerous toxic emissions and other public-health threats facing the state.
“The conference brought together hundreds of ordinary Connecticut residents who are doing extraordinary work to protect the health and safety of our communities,” said Melody Flowers, an organizer at the Toxics Action Center.
Flowers said the attendees would leave with new strategies and enthusiasm to pressure industry and government officials to protect families.
The keynote speaker was Damu Smith, a campaigner with Greenpeace U.S.A. The focus of his work is toxic chemicals and how they affect humans, and he spoke to the conference about strategy and how groups working to protect the environment win their campaigns.
“The extent to which people become educated, organized, mobilized and inspired is what makes a group effective,” Smith said.
Toxics Action honored local environmentalists, including Greencorps, for their efforts.
This was the first time such an award has been given to a student organization, and event coordinators cited the amount of work Greencorps has devoted to the “Filthy Five” issue and the group’s success in developing relationships with local legislators.
The “Filthy Five” are five power plants — Bridgeport Harbor Station, New Haven Harbor Station, Middletown Station, Norwalk Harbor Station and Montville Station — that were built 25-40 years ago and are not required to meet modern pollution standards. These power plants are allowed to emit two times more pollution than newer plants burning the same fuel.
“It is very inspiring to see university students from all over the country trying to better the quality of life for their new community,” Flowers said.
Since 1987, Toxics Action has helped more than 300 neighborhood groups across New England fight toxic pollution in their communities. The group works on a variety of issues, such as cleaning up hazardous waste sites, stopping proposed landfills and incinerators, stopping the spraying of pesticides and pressuring companies to reduce their toxic chemical use and emissions.
“Toxics Action is such a cool group because they empower people to go back to their own communities and make a difference,” said Jonathan Braman ’02, co-coordinator of the Yale Greencorps.
Citizen activists echoed his sentiment.
“I’ve been to a lot of similar conferences, and I think it’s important to motivate and train people to go back to their communities to win their campaigns,” said Rachel Heller of the Connecticut Public Interest Research Group.
New Haven activists were also present at the conference.
A local activist, Reed Smith, the coordinator of Interfaith Cooperative Movement in the Greater New Haven area, said, “New Haven already has an obscene amount of pollution, and we are working for a greater New Haven that is a better and more desirable place to live.”