Bay Street Activists to be Honored For Environmental Leadership

Tiverton, RI – Local residents Gail Corvello, Cynthia Reagon, Lucy Pavao and others are being recognized for their leadership in their effort to clean up hazardous waste in the Bay Street neighborhood. Members of local group Environmental Awareness Committee of Tiverton (ENACT) have been selected from over 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, Massachusetts on March 3rd. Lois Gibbs of the 1970’s Love Canal toxic cleanup case will hand out the awards and congratulate the winners.

The toxic waste was discovered in 2002, when a work crew digging a routine sewer line unearthed blue soil. Residents soon learned that the soil contained arsenic, cyanide, lead and other toxins. Although Southern Union Gas continues to deny any wrongdoing, neighborhood residents as well as investigators from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) believe that the company is responsible for dumping gasified coal waste in the neighborhood as recently as the 1970s.

Over the past eight years, affected residents have essentially been prisoners in their own homes, unable to sell homes or get home-equity loans needed to do minor improvements. Homeowners cannot dig into their yards or gardens and are unable to spend time outdoors without worrying about exposure to contaminated soil and dust. Gail Corvello and her neighbors formed a citizens group called the Environmental Neighborhood Awareness Committee of Tiverton (ENACT) and have been working with Toxics Action Center for a full cleanup of the neighborhood. Toxics Action helped connect the group with legal assistance, and over ninety households filed a lawsuit against Southern Union’s local subsidiary, New England Gas Company, to force a cleanup.

The group has been working together for a long time, was involved in lawsuits, and eventually won a big victory when they helped to increase the polluter fines in Rhode Island and made it unprofitable for the polluter to continue ignoring the contamination.   Unfortunately, the cleanup of the actual neighborhood has stagnated due to bankruptcies and lawsuits. 

“Despite yet unfinished cleanup, this local effort deserves the recognition of this award because of the tireless work of Gail and others involved with ENACT,” said Taryn Hallweaver, a community organizer with Toxics Action Center.

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 Providence, 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 Cleanup Hazardous Waste – began organizing citizens to raise and pass ballot initiatives to protect citizens from harmful toxic waste. The first initiative increased enforcement, cleanup, and citizen access within Massachusetts’s Superfund system. Now Toxics Action Center has offices in every New England state and works with over 80 communities each year.

Toxics Action Center has worked side by side with over 700 communities and directly trained over 10,000 people.