Submitted by kiwasserman13 on Wed, 2013-03-27 11:34
Chicago’s southwest side was home to two of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants—the Fisk and Crawford plants, owned by Midwest Generation. Just a few hundred feet away from the Crawford plant is the vibrant and diverse community of Little Village, a small but densely populated neighborhood of some 100,000 residents, mostly Latino families and children. Read more »
Kimberly Wasserman helped lead local residents in a successful campaign to shut down two of the country’s oldest and dirtiest coal power plants—and is now transforming Chicago’s old industrial sites into parks and multi-use spaces.
Chicago’s southwest side was home to two of the nation’s oldest and dirtiest coal-fired power plants—the Fisk and Crawford plants, owned by Midwest Generation. Just a few hundred feet away from the Crawford plant is the vibrant and diverse community of Little Village, a small but densely populated neighborhood of some 100,000 residents, mostly Latino families and children.
Toxic emissions from the smokestacks—unwittingly called “cloud factories” by local kids—would waft over the sky in Little Village, while coal dust from the plants’ stockpile settled onto houses and school grounds. The pollution intensified during the winter and summer, when the plants ramped up operations to fill energy demands—mostly coming from other states.
Meanwhile, residents were suffering high rates of asthma, bronchitis, and a slew of other respiratory illnesses. In fact, a Harvard study linked more than 40 premature deaths, 550 emergency room visits and 2,800 asthma attacks every year to the toxic emissions from the two plants, with children being the most vulnerable to the plants’ pollution. Residents would rely on nebulizers and oxygen tanks to help them breathe; parents who worried about asthma attacks would keep children from going outside to play. Thousands stayed home from school or missed work every year because they were sick, resulting in educational and economic losses.
Motivation Among these residents was Kimberly Wasserman, a Chicana born and raised in Little Village who lived in a house not a mile away from the Crawford plant. In 1998, then a single mother, she rushed her 3-month-old baby to the hospital when he started gasping for air. According to the doctors, her son had suffered an asthma attack, which she later found out, had been triggered by environmental pollution.
Fired up from this experience, the community organizer for the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) began going to door to door with her baby in tow, talking to families in the neighborhood who were dealing with similar problems. She explained how their health problems were stemming from the coal plants and convinced parents—some of whom were undocumented immigrants afraid to speak up—that they had a right to live and raise their children in a neighborhood free from toxic pollution.
Impact Keeping these local voices front and center, Wasserman worked with other local community-based organizations to form a strategic alliance with faith, health, labor, and environmental groups and reached out to local policymakers. With limited resources, they mounted a formidable campaign that got residents out to picket and attend public hearings, organize “Toxic Tours” of industrial sites and stage a “Coal Olympics” timed around the city’s bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games.
After a long stall in Chicago politics, whose leaders had long supported the coal industry, the communities’ efforts to shut down the plants gained new momentum in 2011 with the creation of the Chicago Clean Power Coalition, the election of a new mayor and a new class of aldermen on the City Council.
The coalition pushed efforts to build momentum for the Clean Power Ordinance among local policymakers, and the measure received support from 35 aldermen and Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Faced with expensive requirements to upgrade its pollution controls and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, Midwest announced it would shut down the Crawford and Fisk plants.
The coal power plants closed ahead of schedule in the fall of 2012, and LVEJO, in partnership with a community organization in nearby Pilsen, is negotiating a Community Benefits Agreement. The agreement prohibits any fossil fuel industry from operating on the property, and entitles residents to meet the potential new owners, who will be required to present their plans for the site to the community.
Wasserman is also training the next generation of organizers to lead the community in transforming old industrial sites in Little Village into parks and open spaces such as skate parks, soccer fields, and picnic sites where residents can exercise and enjoy the fresh air. Her vision for these spaces is to serve as a community “front porch,” where residents get together to discuss ways to continue improving the neighborhood.
Argentina is the world’s third largest exporter of soybeans. Every year, the industry spreads over 50 million gallons of agro-toxins—namely glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s widely-used herbicide Roundup, and endosulfan—through aerial spraying over farmland. Read more »
A mother whose infant died as a result of pesticide poisoning, Sofía Gatica is organizing local women to stop indiscriminate spraying of toxic agrochemicals in neighboring soy fields.
Argentina is the world’s third largest exporter of soybeans. Every year, the industry spreads over 50 million gallons of agro-toxins—namely glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s widely-used herbicide Roundup, and endosulfan—through aerial spraying over farmland.
While Monsanto claims there is no risk to humans, a 2008 scientific study found that even at low concentrations, glyphosate causes the death of human embryonic, placental and umbilical cells. Endosulfan is a highly toxic pesticide that has been banned in 80 countries because of its threats to human health and the environment. In May 2011, it was added to the UN list of persistent organic pollutants to be eliminated worldwide.
Thirteen years ago, Sofía Gatica gave birth to a daughter. Three days later, the baby’s kidneys failed. The working-class mother of three was determined to find out what killed her child. She began talking to her neighbors in Ituzaingó, a working-class neighborhood of 6,000 in central Argentina surrounded by soy fields, and became alarmed at the prevalence of unexplained health problems plaguing her community.
Gatica invited a group of neighbors to her home to discuss their experiences. With only a high school education and no organizing experience, Gatica co-founded the Mothers of Ituzaingó—a group of 16 mothers working together to put a stop to the indiscriminate agrochemical use that was poisoning their community.
Gatica and the group of mothers began going door to door to conduct the first epidemiological study of the area and discovered the serious effects that pesticide spraying was having on the families in Ituzaingó. Residents reported cancer rates that were 41 times the national average (doctors suspect that many other cases go unreported), as well as high rates of neurological and respiratory diseases, birth defects, and infant mortality.
With the findings confirming their worst fears, the Mothers of Ituzaingó brought together environmental groups in Argentina to launch a “Stop Spraying” campaign. They led press conferences, demonstrations and published materials to warn the public about the dangers of pesticides. Gatica also met with research institutions to request scientific studies to confirm what she had observed in Ituzaingó.
Gatica and the Mothers of Ituzaingó faced an uphill battle, having very few resources or any direct access to demand accountability from Monsanto, DuPont and other global agrochemical companies operating in Argentina. They also endured insults and threats from individuals, police officers, and local business owners in Ituzaingó. In 2007, an individual entered Gatica’s house and demanded that she give up the campaign while pointing a revolver at her.
Despite these challenges, Gatica and the mothers’ advocacy has had resounding effects. In 2008, the president of Argentina ordered the minister of health to investigate the impact of pesticide use in Ituzaingó and a resulting study conducted by the Department of Medicine at Buenos Aires University corroborated the mothers’ door-to-door research linking pesticide exposure to public health. Gatica subsequently succeeded in getting a municipal ordinance passed that prohibited aerial spraying in Ituzaingó at distances of less than 2,500 meters from residences. In an unprecedented victory, a 2010 ruling from the Supreme Court not only banned agrochemical spraying near populated areas, but it also reversed the burden of proof—instead of residents proving that spraying causes harm, the government and soy producers must now prove the chemicals are safe.
Other municipalities in Argentina have reached out to Gatica for help addressing similar problems in their neighborhoods. Recognizing the extent of the issue, Gatica is working with the Stop Spraying campaign to ban all aerial spraying in Argentina and create buffer zones so that agrochemicals are not used in close proximity to residential areas and waterways. With Argentina’s ban on endosulfan going into effect July 2013, Gatica and her colleagues are pushing for a nationwide ban on glyphosate as well.
Hilton Kelley is a leading figure in the battle for environmental justice on the Texas Gulf Coast, as he fights for communities living in the shadow of polluting industries.Read more »
Now leading the battle for environmental justice on the Texas Gulf Coast, Hilton Kelley fights for communities living in the shadow of polluting industries.
Port Arthur, Texas Located among eight major petrochemical and hazardous waste facilities on the Texas Gulf Coast, the largely African-American West Side neighborhood of Port Arthur has long suffered as a result of the near constant emissions spewing from smokestacks ringing the community. Port Arthur is noted by the EPA as having some of the highest levels of toxic air releases in the country, and the companies operating the local plants have been cited with hundreds of state air pollution violations.
The West Side’s asthma and cancer rates are among the highest in the state, while the community’s income levels are among the lowest. As industry has grown, local property values have plummeted. Few jobs exist in the plants for West Side residents. At the end of each workday, a stream of cars heads away from Port Arthur’s industrial facilities toward the more affluent towns nearby as the gas flares continue to burn within sight of the West Side’s schools and federal housing projects.
The facilities operating in the area include the Motiva oil refinery, the Valero refinery, the Huntsman Petrochemical plant, the Chevron Phillips plant, the Great Lakes Carbon Corporation’s petroleum facility, the Total Petrochemicals USA facility, Veolia incinerator facility and the BASFFina Petrochemicals plant.
Motivation Hilton Kelley was born and raised on the West Side of Port Arthur and spent many of his early years in the Carver Terrace public housing project on the fence line of the Motiva refinery. Back then, in the late 1970s, the West Side had a lively main street, and though people struggled financially, there was a sense of community pride among the residents. Even then, Kelley remembers the smell of sulfur from the refineries being a near constant presence, but people in the community did not discuss it.
He and his brother were raised by their mother, who made sure her sons worked hard in school and stayed out of trouble. Kelley participated in sports, martial arts, and theater and became an Eagle Scout. He began attending college right out of high school, but when his mother died tragically during his freshman year, his life took a different path.
Kelley decided to get himself to California so he could achieve his dream of becoming a professional actor. A stint in the US Navy brought him to the San Francisco Bay Area, and he settled in Oakland after completing his tour of duty. Through a series of lucky breaks, Kelley began working as a stunt man and actor on several major movies and television shows that were filmed in the Bay Area, including CBS’s Nash Bridges.
During a visit home in 2000, 21years after he left Port Arthur, Kelley saw the community sickened by industrial pollution, plagued with crime, and teetering on the brink of total economic collapse. Kelley realized then that it was his true calling to come back and help rebuild his hometown. With no formal community organizing training, he set out to turn things around.
Impact Kelley recognized early on, thanks to his local mentors, that Port Arthur’s economic and social issues could only be addressed if the environmental problems were tackled first. He learned everything he could about the policies governing industrial pollution and became the leader of the local movement to clean up Port Arthur. He established his own organization, Community In-power and Development Association (CIDA), and began training local residents to monitor air quality.
In 2006, when Motiva announced that it would expand its Port Arthur facility into the largest petrochemical refinery in the country, Kelley got to work on the opposition. As a result of Kelley’s community outreach campaign and advocacy, Motiva installed state-of-the-art equipment to reduce harmful emissions. Kelley negotiated a now-famous “good neighbor” agreement with Motiva that provided health coverage for the residents of the West Side for three years and established a $3.5 million fund to help entrepreneurs launch new businesses in the community. He also led a campaign beginning in 2006 that prevented Veolia Corporation from importing more than 20,000 tons of toxic PCBs from Mexico for incineration at its Port Arthur plant.
Kelley has helped set Port Arthur’s West Side neighborhood on the path to redevelopment. His leadership over ten years has resulted in cooperation between industry and his community, which has led to reduced emissions and better lives for the people living next door to some of the petrochemical facilities that help fuel the rest of the United States.
Kelley continues to advocate for stricter environmental regulations on the Texas Gulf Coast and serves on the EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. Thanks to his leadership, Port Arthur has recently been selected as an EPA national showcase city, bringing new attention and funding to the community. Last year, Kelley and his wife opened Kelley’s Kitchen, a soul food restaurant that employs West Side residents.
“I speak up for the disadvantaged because it is my duty, it is the duty of all mankind to help those in need, those who have no voice, no way of helping themselves. Having compassion for others in adverse situations is the very thread that creates a civilized and just nation, a just society." - Hilton Kelley
Submitted by olsperanskaya09 on Mon, 2009-03-16 13:36
Russian scientist Olga Speranskaya successfully transformed the NGO community in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia into a potent, participatory force working to identify and eliminate the Soviet legacy of toxic chemicals in the environment.Speranskaya formed a civil society network that has grown to include NGO groups, governmental bodies and academia in 11 former Soviet states. Read more »
Russian scientist Olga Speranskaya successfully transformed the NGO community in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia (EECCA) into a potent, participatory force working to identify and eliminate the Soviet legacy of toxic chemicals in the environment.
Speranskaya formed a civil society network that has grown to include NGO groups, governmental bodies and academia in 11 former Soviet states. Together in equal partnerships with NGOs all over the region, she has focused on phasing out toxic chemicals and reducing harmful exposures to human health and the environment. Her leadership and the collective efforts of thousands of people are helping to turn around a legacy of pollution with impunity to one of proper care and attention. The EECCA NGO campaign towards a toxic-free future succeeded in pushing the national governments to ratify the Stockholm Convention, which would eliminate the release of persistent organic pollutants into the environment; 9 of 12 countries in this region ratified the Convention and now participate as full Parties at its global meetings. Toxic Legacy The countries of the EECCA region are home to vast stockpiles of highly toxic obsolete pesticides and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These are among 12 of the world's most toxic chemicals called persistent organic pollutants (POPs). Exposure to POPs can lead to reproductive, endocrine, and hormonal disruption, neurological behavior disorders, and birth defects. During the Soviet era, the EECCA republics served as the breadbasket of the country. As part of an agricultural assistance program, they received huge amounts of pesticides to aid in food production. After the collapse of the USSR, many of these countries lost control of the system completely, with stockpiles left unguarded and obsolete chemicals improperly stored. Moldova sent their stockpiles to France for elimination but other countries did not have this opportunity. Most of the stockpiles are found in poor, agricultural communities where unknowing farmers use the toxic chemicals on local crops or in their backyards gardens. Although many POPs, such as the pesticide DDT, are no longer in production, they continue to significantly harm human health and ecosystems due to their persistent and bioaccumulative properties, and ability to travel long distances away from their original sources. As a result they continue to poison people and the environment in invisible ways. Improper storage of obsolete stockpiles and broken containers leak into the soil, contaminating the water supply and crops, worsening the situation and providing additional opportunity for toxic release. In some parts of Central Asia, where DDT is available for purchase in open markets, the toxic, banned chemical is still used to make fruit stay fresh longer. Today, toxic substances are buried in ditches and stored in dilapidated buildings throughout the EECCA region. Governments lack the capacity, financial resources and will to systematically locate, quantify, monitor, inspect and identify the toxic chemicals. Many of the stockpiles are not recorded as part of national inventories. Poor regulations compound the problem as industry generates thousands of additional tons of hazardous waste. Partnerships Across EECCA Olga Speranskaya is Director of the Chemical Safety Program at the Eco-Accord Center for Environment and Sustainable Development (Eco-Accord), where she has worked since 1997. Speranskaya holds a Doctorate in physics from the Russian Academy of Sciences. Prior to joining Eco-Accord, she was a scientific researcher at the Institute of Oceanology. In 1992, Speranskaya won the Financial Times's David Thomas Prize for her essay, "What Will the Collapse of Communism Do to the Environment?" Winning this prize prompted Speranskaya to change the focus of her career, eventually leading her to Eco-Accord. Since 1997, Speranskaya has worked to create awareness of the health dangers of toxic chemicals. With the belief that the key to dealing with the Soviet toxic legacy was an energized, empowered, public-interest NGO community, Speranskaya helped to connect small NGO groups throughout EECCA to a single advocacy network working together to pressure governments to acknowledge and clean up toxic sites. In the ensuing years, she has led campaigns to eliminate persistent organic pollutants (POPs), fought to ban the burial and transport of hazardous chemicals, provided information to government decision-makers for policy changes and fostered civil society participation. In all of these campaigns her work has shown a sensitivity to the delicate political contexts that NGOs work in, and as a result in many cases there is now government and NGO cooperation to protect public health far into the future. Soon after joining Eco-Accord, she took charge of the organization’s news service that informs the public about the environment, sustainable development and chemical safety information not usually available in digest form. Today, this news service has over 3,000 business, government, NGO and citizen subscribers who count on Eco-Accord to translate and summarize technical and scientific details and often complex policy decisions into simpler terms. Information on international negotiations on toxic chemicals and activities of international groups provided by the service helped to make a bridge between isolated local organizations in the EECCA and the international community. The service has also linked EECCA civil society groups to international networks, where they have been able to exchange information and participate in global activities. In 1999, Speranskaya became involved in the worldwide effort to eliminate POPs through the creation of the Stockholm Convention. Her participation in the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) not only connected NGOs in the region with technical and financial resources from the rest of the world, it also brought these NGOs into a vast coalition that speaks with one voice. The Convention, which officially went into effect in 2004, calls for the elimination and reduction of the release of POPs into the environment. Her campaign and the public pressure created by it greatly contributed to the ratification of the Convention by the EECCA countries; 9 of 12 countries of this region ratified the Convention and now participate as full Parties at its global meetings. In 2004, Speranskaya was nominated by her NGO peers to be Regional Director of the International POPs Elimination Project (IPEP) for the EECCA countries. Over the past few years, Speranskaya has helped NGOs implement more than 70 projects on toxic chemicals in Azerbaijan, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Ukraine and Uzbekistan. The NGOs have identified contaminated hotspots, analyzed the health impacts of POPs, developed proposals for mitigating these poisonous chemicals, and coordinated public participation in the identification of unauthorized storage and use of banned and obsolete chemicals. Since the completion of this effort in 2007, Speranskaya continues working to develop a chemical management and clean up plan for the region. Collectively, these and other projects are shaping the EECCA region's approach to toxic chemical-free future. Speranskaya has succeeded in fostering civil society participation in countries that at the time of the breakup of the Soviet Union lacked an active environmental movement and had no tradition of participatory democracy. Her dedication to this work has enabled dozens of citizen groups and NGOs in Russia and other EECCA countries to tackle the overwhelming problem of toxic chemical pollution locally and nationally.
“This award is a great recognition of the work of non-governmental organizations in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Caucasus and Central Asia who succeeded in putting chemical safety problems high on the national agendas. Starting with local actions, our voices are now heard globally, which is critical for the future of our countries."
A Lakota, she helped stop proposed nuclear weapons testing in North Dakota’s Black Hills and also worked to prevent hazardous landfills from being located in the Pine Ridge and Rosebud Reservations. Read more »
JoAnn Tall belongs to the Oglala Lakota tribe in the Pine Ridge Reservation of South Dakota, located in one of the nation's poorest counties. As a mother of eight children who suffers from crippling rheumatoid arthritis, Tall has overcome severe obstacles to improve the conditions of the Lakota people and preserve their sacred land.
Guided by her prophetic dreams and spiritual experiences, Tall began a history of environmental activism through raising awareness about the health hazards of local uranium mining and the dangers inherent in a proposed Honeywell nuclear weapons testing site. Using her Indian-owned and operated radio station, she informed the Lakota people of the impending desecration of their sacred Black Hills. After she erected a resistance camp of tipis and a sweat lodge at the proposed testing site, Honeywell abandoned its plans.
Tall later co-founded the Native Resource Coalition, dedicated to research and education for the Lakota people on issues of land, health and the environment. When the AMCOR Company appoached the tribal council about locating a 5,000 acre landfill and incinerator on the reservation, Tall vehemently opposed and began to speak out against the project. When Tall learned that tribes across the country had been similarly approached, she found further resolve to halt the project. Tall's organizing efforts finally paid off. Pressure from tribal members ultimately convinced the tribal council to reject AMCOR's proposal - although the council had initially disapproved of Tall's objections. Later, a related company approached the neighboring Rosebud Reservation with the same offer. Tall helped the people of Rosebud halt that project as well. These victories have influenced other reservations across the country to fight against proposed waste dumps.
Tall has served on the board of directors of the Seventh Generation Fund. She has increasingly taken on the role of an elder, acting as an advisor and educator. She focuses on providing spiritual guidance to youth while continuing to inspire both native and non-native people around the world to protect the environment.
"The whole focus that I've always worked on as a grassroots environmentalist is that you do not tear up Mother Earth."
Submitted by teswearingen97 on Tue, 2006-03-07 10:38
Terri Swearingen fought the construction of the nation’s largest toxic waste incinerator in East Liverpool, Ohio, sited 1,100 feet from an elementary school. Her efforts halted the construction of other incinerators around the country.Read more »
In 1980, Waste Technologies Industries (WTI) began plans to build the nation's largest toxic waste incinerator in the Appalachian town of East Liverpool, Ohio. Completed in 1992 and located on the banks of the Ohio River across from Chester, West Virginia, the incinerator is among the largest in the world. Built in a low-income residential neighborhood, it is located within 1,100 feet of an elementary school and 320 feet from the nearest home.
Terri Swearingen, a registered nurse, became concerned about the carcinogenic heavy metals that the plant would emit. In 1990, she committed herself full time to the fight against WTI and co-founded the Tri-State Environmental Council, a coalition of grassroots citizen groups in Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Swearingen uncovered numerous problems with the toxic waste incinerator and immediately began a major community organizing effort. In 1991, she led a group of over 1000 residents in what was for most their first protest march. At that time she and 32 other protesters committed their first act of peaceful civil disobedience which resulted in their arrest.
Since then she has been arrested nearly a dozen times for similar protests. In 1992, her findings prompted Congress to hold its first hearing on ways in which the EPA officials bent rules to help industries they are supposed to regulate. In 1993, the plant began limited operation. Swearingen stepped up her protests, traveling across the nation speaking to communities threatened by similar facilities. Her tour culminated in a demonstration in front of the White House, where Swearingen was arrested. The following day the Clinton administration announced a major revision of the government's rules for overseeing the nation's hazardous waste incinerators, mirroring the steps that Swearingen proposed earlier that year.
An 18 month nationwide moratorium on new incinerators was initiated, while old regulations were overhauled. A new combustion strategy and waste minimization plan was developed to include the creation of more stringent permitting standards and stricter limits for the release of toxic heavy metals and dioxin from toxic waste incinerators.
Swearingen exposed illegalities in the manner in which WTI had obtained permits and pushed the state of Ohio to review their policies and reconsider the validity of WTI's license. She is credited with prompting the governor of Ohio to declare a moratorium on any new incinerators in the state.
In March of 1997, WTI filed a $34 million lawsuit against Swearingen and 32 other local citizens. Two months later, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a risk assessment which showed at least 27 possible accident scenarios that could produce harmful or fatal results for the 400 children attending school adjacent to the site. At the same time, they issued their first-ever federal guidelines for the siting of hazardous waste management facilities. Citizens working to stop WTI were credited as being the driving force behind the EPA's action to implement these siting standards.
"No child in the United States should have to go to school next door to where toxic waste is being burned, and no president should allow it."
Bobby Peek skillfully united his racially divided community and succeeded in closing illegal toxic dumps in south Durban, a highly industrialized, contaminated community.Read more »
A native of the highly industrial South Durban area, Sven "Bobby" Peek personifies the vibrant brand of activist addressing the myriad of environmental justice issues facing South Africa in the post-apartheid era. Peek has worked tirelessly with local community groups to ameliorate the severe pollution problems in the South Durban region where industry and residences are side by side. Inhabited by working class people, the valley is also home to two oil refineries (one of which is Africa's largest), waste water treatment works, numerous toxic waste landfill sites, an airport, a paper manufacturing plant and a multitude of chemical process industries. The Engen oil refinery, situated behind Peek's house, produces 60 tons of sulfur dioxide each day. In the South Durban area alone, more than 100 smoke stacks belch out in excess of 54 million kilograms of sulfur dioxide each year. Meanwhile, toxic leachate runs into storm water drains and children in local schools have three times the rate of respiratory diseases as children living outside of the area. Every family on Peek's block, including Peek's, has lost at least one member to cancer. With his seemingly boundless energy, Peek has mobilized people living in a difficult multiethnic environment to speak with a common voice for their rights. He has effectively used the media to highlight the constant dangers to public health in the area and his efforts and initiatives have gained national attention. In 1995, President Nelson Mandela met with the community who protested at the opening of an expansion project at the Engen refinery. As a result, a meeting with all the stakeholders was called and the South Durban Steering Committee for Environmental Management (SDSCEM) was established, with Peek as chair. However, in time Peek realized the importance of communities first uniting with each other before engaging industry and government. He therefore convened the South Durban Community Environmental Alliance (SDCEA), which brought together the several diverse and previously racially divided residential groups. Shortly after the meeting with President Mandela the local community was granted a long-awaited hearing with the National Minister of Water Affairs regarding the closure of the Umlazi dump site - a toxic landfill operating without a permit. The minister promised to investigate the illegal toxic dump site, but it took further protests, this time by school students suffering adversely because of the site, for the illegal dump to finally be closed in 1997. Peek's grassroots activism also came to the attention of the nationally recognized Environmental Justice Networking Forum (EJNF). He is now EJNF's national campaigns coordinator, mobilizing communities around the country suffering from the effects of environmental injustices.
"Communities must not relent in their struggle against environmental injustices and racism and should not let the obstacles of industrial and state power foil their quest for the ideal environment."
A former naval officer, Alexander Nikitin was unjustly imprisoned for nearly five years for treason after revealing the potential for a nuclear catastrophe due to Russia’s aging nuclear submarines based near the Norwegian border. He was acquitted in 2000.Read more »
During the cold war arms race, the former Soviet Union built and operated a large fleet of nuclear powered submarines. As a result the Kola Peninsula, adjacent to the Norwegian border along the Barents Sea, has the highest concentration of nuclear reactors in the world. Eighteen percent of the world's nuclear reactors are located there. With 69 retired submarines still containing nuclear fuel, along with 60 operating nuclear submarines, the danger of catastrophic radioactive contamination is great, especially from eroded and leaking submarines and accidents in radioactive waste storage facilities. Until 1985 Alexander Nikitin was a naval captain in the Soviet Northern Fleet, where he served as chief engineer on nuclear powered submarines. From 1987 to 1992 he worked for the Department of Defense as the senior inspector for its Nuclear and Radiation Safety Inspection Department. After he left the Navy, Nikitin felt obliged to reveal to the world the potential for nuclear catastrophe and to help Russia handle its fleet of decommissioned nuclear submarines. Nikitin joined the Bellona Foundation, a Norwegian non-governmental organization addressing northwestern Russia's formidable environmental problems. As a specialist with first-hand knowledge of the issue and the region, Nikitin provided detailed information and was able to map the region's radioactive sources. In 1996 Nikitin co-authored a report entitled, "The Russian Northern Fleet - Sources of Radioactive Contamination," preparing a section about Soviet nuclear submarine accidents and safety problems of naval reactor installations. In 1995 Bellona's Russian office was ransacked by the Federal Security Police (FSB) - the successors to the KGB - and all references for the report were confiscated. Nikitin was trying to reconstruct the report when he was suddenly arrested in February 1996. He was imprisoned on charges of high treason and devulging of state secrets for his work on the report, even though this information had been published elsewhere. He was told that he had violated Defense Ministry secret decrees, but was not informed what these laws were. This report is currently the only publication in Russia that is officially banned. During his first six weeks in prison Nikitin was denied the opportunity to choose his own lawyer. He was held in solitary confinement and denied bail. On December 14, 1996 the Attorney General released Nikitin from prison and his case was sent back to the FSB for further investigation. After his release, he was not permitted to leave St. Petersburg. After several months, the FSB completed its investigation and filed additional charges of treason - seven in total - against Nikitin. According to legal experts, he is the only Russian citizen ever to be charged so many times with the same crime. After Nikitin filed for his case to be dismissed, the Prosecutor General's office issued a statement saying that the usage of secret military decrees applied retroactively against him is a violation of the Russian constitution. These decrees were central to the FSB's case against Nikitin. In the meanwhile, Nikitin and his family have been followed and harassed. In June 1998, Nikitin's case was transferred to the City Court of St. Petersburg.
"I am convinced that ECOLOGY cannot be secret. Environmental openness is an inalienable human right. Any attempt to conceal any information about harmful impacts on people and environment is a crime against humanity."