The HEAR database aims to increase and diversify the legal, scientific, medical and technical expertise available to community groups with environmental and public health concerns.
The HEAR database is a collaborative project of Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) and Toxics Action Center. Every day, members of community groups across New England call our organizations seeking advice on their work confronting environmental hazards. Sometimes we can handle the questions ourselves, but often we have to look outside our own networks for help. When groups need a lawyer to review siting documents or a doctor to weigh in on the effects of air pollution on health, we turn to the network of HEAR experts to match communities with volunteers. This kind of assistance, and in some cases partnership, is absolutely essential to our work and the services we provide community groups.
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How are communities helped by this database?
We have been helping communities connect with experts for the past decade. Read on for examples of how the partnerships work.
Cleaning Up Lead Contamination in Williston, Vermont
Williston community members are committed to keeping their town safe from dangerous lead pollution, which has been found in a local pond, brook and residents’ wells and is the product of a nearby shooting range. Unfortunately, a “clean-up plan” allowed tons of construction and demolition debris to be dumped on top of the polluted site. Lead Free Williston is working closely with Toxics Action Center, Vermont Law School Environment and Natural Resource Legal Clinic and University of Vermont Professor Don Ross to hold the shooting range to proper remediation standards that truly protect drinking water. Professor Ross, a Research Professor in the Department of Plant and Soil Science, and a team of students have helped the community group demonstrate the extent of contamination by sampling soil and surface water for lead pollution.
Preventing Asphalt Pollution in Sheffield, Massachusetts
Sheffield is a Norman Rockwell-esque community in the Berkshires. When residents found out about a proposal to build a hot mix asphalt plant in their neighborhood on an existing rock-crushing facility, they knew this would bring more noise, dust, air pollution, and truck traffic to their quiet neighborhood. So they organized and formed the No Asphalt Defense Fund! For seven years, with the help of Toxics Action Center, community members raised money through local donations and regional grants, pressured environmental agencies, and kept attention on the issue in local media and online. They worked closely with the rock-crushing facility to improve existing conditions, and importantly, they negotiated an agreement to prohibit asphalt production at the facility. Elaine Panitz, MD MPH, an occupational and environmental health professional, worked directly with the group at every step along the way providing technical support.
Curbing Noise and Air Pollution in Burrillville, Rhode Island
Kathy Martley lives next to a gas compressor station owned by Spectra, a large energy company, in Burrillville, Rhode Island. For decades, the compressor station has released toxics into air and water and subjected its neighbors to devastating noise pollution. Now, Spectra wants to expand the compressor station so that more gas can pass through the pipeline, exacerbating existing pollution and noise problems and increasing risk of explosions. In addition, in partnership with Spectra, Invenergy has proposed to build a massive 900 MW new gas- and oil-fired power plant in Burrillville. Kathy and her neighbors formed Burrillville Against Spectra Expansion (BASE), and BASE has fought back by knocking on doors, meeting with elected officials, and working within a growing multi-state coalition to stop the project. Toxics Action Center staff helped the group hone its strategy, connect with other organizations fighting the Spectra expansion, and launch plans for citizen-led noise monitoring with help from graduate students at BUSPH. We worked with Michael McClean, MS, ScD, Associate Professor of Environmental Health at BUSPH and the Director of the Exposure Biology Research Laboratory, to connect Burrillville neighbors with Taylor Williams, then-MPH Candidate in Environmental Health. Taylor conducted noise monitoring exposure assessment and drafted a report on baseline noise levels. The results of the survey documented exceedances and made the case that exceedances will become more frequent if the expansion moves forward.
Winning environmental justice in East Freetown, Massachusetts
East Freetown is a low income community of color that has faced disproportionate environmental burdens, especially on Braley Road, which is home to many Cape Verdean families. Over 20 years ago, the Massachusetts Highway Department located a salt facility on Braley Road, and when the salt seeped into the groundwater, the neighborhood wells were contaminated so severely that residents did not have enough water pressure to properly flush toilets. When the neighborhood was designated an industrial zone in 1996, despite the many homes and churches in the area, residents formed Concerned Citizens of Freetown (CCF) with the leadership of Reverend Curtis Dias of Calvary Pentecostal Church to fight back. CCF reached out to ACE for support, and through the Massachusetts Environmental Justice Assistance Network (MEJAN), ACE linked CCF with attorneys Gregor I. McGregor and Michael J. O’Neill of McGregor & Associates. The combined efforts of residents’ organizing and legal support won multiple campaigns for a healthier Braley Road, including stopping the expansion of a concrete facility, defeating an asphalt plant, limiting truck traffic and banning the storage of fly ash. In 2003, with support from Nadine Cohen of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Paul Wilson of Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C., CCF filed suit against Freetown for targeting their neighborhood for excessive environmental burdens and won a settlement from the town in 2005. The settlement established a role for community members in decision-making on zoning and land use, included a substantial amount of money, and required upgrades to the water supply system that provided the neighborhood with adequate water pressure for the first time since the contamination occurred.
Protecting Air Quality in Graniteville, Vermont
For years, Graniteville residents have valiantly fought an asphalt plant. Located near homes, the plant is permitted to emit more than 10 tons of hazardous toxics into the air each year. Neighbors for Healthy Communities’ court case, argued by Vermont Law School’s Environmental and Natural Resources Clinic, recently won at the Vermont Supreme Court and is back to square one. Toxics Action Center helped the group fundraise to pay for experts and helped secure pro bono expert assistance, including enlisting Lew Pepper, a physician and researcher on occupational health who has worked directly with group leaders to provide assistance and identify air pollution experts for their court case. We’re continuing our work to assure that the proper consideration is taken and the permit will be revoked.
Stopping ethanol trains in Greater Boston, Massachusetts
In 2013, residents in East Boston, Chelsea and Revere prevented the transport of millions of gallons of ethanol by rail through over 90 towns and cities in Massachusetts. Ethanol is a highly flammable and dangerous substance and its transport presents a major threat, especially to densely populated cities like East Boston, Chelsea and Revere, which are already overburdened by environmental hazards and are lacking the resources necessary to be prepared to respond to an ethanol disaster. Led by the Chelsea Creek Action Group and with support from ACE legal staff, residents launched a three-year campaign that combined organizing and legal assistance to stop the trains. In response, the $17.6 billion corporation withdrew the proposal and the governor passed a three-year moratorium on the transport of ethanol by train through Greater Boston.
Responding to Community Concerns about Air Quality in New Bedford, Massachusetts
The New Bedford Harbor is one of the nation’s largest and most contaminated Superfund sites. Toxics Action Center works in partnership with the Boston University Superfund Research Program (BUSRP) and ACE to respond to community concerns related to PCB contamination and air quality in New Bedford, support an air monitoring study of outdoor concentrations of PCBs in ambient air, and build community leadership and organizing capacity. Toxics Action Center has worked closely with Hands Across the River Coalition (HARC), the group leading efforts to clean up the harbor, to identify incremental campaign goals, build relationships with other local organizations, increase the group’s impact and identify other goals for environmental justice in New Bedford. In the air quality monitoring study, Toxics Action Center took the lead on identifying and communicating with the monitor hosts to increase their engagement and grow HARC’s core leadership group along with setting up hosts to utilize weather logs and run trainings on messaging and materials development. With ACE providing legal support and BUSRP coordinating scientific expertise, our work in the New Bedford Harbor has helped residents build a campaign for a safe, healthy environment.
Fighting a power plant in Brockton, Massachusetts
Residents in Brockton and West Bridgewater have been organizing for more than a decade to prevent the construction of a proposed new fossil fuel power plant in an environmental justice community. Brockton Power, LLC is seeking to locate the power plant in a low income community of color, less than a mile from schools, senior living facilities, and hundreds of homes. Concerned residents reached out to ACE for legal assistance, and with support from ACE legal staff Eugene Benson and Staci Rubin, along with Lisa Goodheart and Phelps Turner of Sugarman, Rogers, Barshak and Cohen, P.C., the group brought the case to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The residents’ legal challenge provided the occasion for state’s highest court to confirm the applicability and consider the implications of the state’s environmental justice policy for the very first time. Further, thanks to the efforts of the residents and their legal team, the Energy Facilities Siting Board ruled that Brockton Power could not use municipal drinking water to cool the facility, in a major victory for the residents which the SJC upheld on appeal. Though Brockton Power and its supporters sought to get around that decision by making alternative water supply arrangements, the residents continue to battle the project, and are now engaged in an ongoing legal challenge to the issuance of an air permit needed to run the facility.
The HEAR database is a collaboration of the following organizations:
Home of the Massachusetts Environmental Justice Assistance Network, a network of more than 130 attorneys, public health professionals, and environmental consultants, who provide pro bono assistance to lower income and communities of color throughout the state. Contact: Kalila Barnett, Executive Director.
Public health scientists and students with expertise in environmental health research working to improve mechanisms to support viable community-university partnerships. Contact: Madeleine Kangsen Scammell.
Toxics Action helps neighborhood groups wage campaigns to fight toxics and force polluters to protect the health and safety of communities across New England. Contact: Sylvia Broude, Executive Director.
The Science for the Benefit of Environmental Health Award (“The Dick Clapp Award”) is presented to a scientist or environmental health professional for exceptional work in advancing public and environmental health.
Curt Nordgaard, MD, is a pediatrician at a Dorchester health clinic and environmental health advocate who has worked tirelessly to shine a light on the health effects of fracking and support community efforts to stop it. From giving presentations to public officials, to assisting residents living near a proposed compressor station test their air for pollution, Dr. Nordgaard has been an outspoken advocate for community health and environmental justice.
The Massachusetts Association of Health Boards (MAHB) is awarded for advancing public health across the state. MAHB provides support to local Boards of Health to ensure safe drinking water, regulate food and housing safety and protect against polluting industries. In recent years, MAHB and board members supported Toxics Action Center’s campaign to keep the statewide moratorium on incinerators, played a critical role in closing a hazardous waste facility in Framingham, and stopped plans to build an asphalt plant next to homes.
Ethan Mascoop, former Health Department Director for the town of Framingham, MA, and Wendy Heiger-Bernays, BUSPH Associate Professor of Environmental Health, awarded for several years of work, including with community resident group Framingham Action Coalition for Environmental Safety (FACES) around the clean-up of the General Chemical Corporation site in Framingham. Wendy used her expertise in toxicology and public health to advise the town and community on the risks and closure process for the polluting hazardous waste transfer facility. Ethan went above and beyond to engage the community and oversaw hearings to review General Chemical’s permits. As a result, General Chemical voluntarily closed its doors.
David Brown, Sc.D., MS, Director of Public Health Toxicology, Environment and Human Health, Inc., dedicated to protecting human health from environmental harm. David spent years working in government as chief of environmental epidemiology in Connecticut and running the public health practice at Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Today he is focused on uncovering health risks hidden by industry from the impacts of fracking, to the hazards of using ground-up tires in synthetic turf, to the dangers of wood smoke.
Harlee Strauss, PhD, President, H. Strauss Associates, Inc., initiated and, for its first year, lead a multi-million dollar study to investigate the potential links between the environment and breast cancer on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Harlee was the founding director of Silent Spring Institute, an organization that has served as a pioneer in environmental health research. In recent years, she has helped a community group in Somerville better understand the hazards posed by a toxic spill underneath their homes that was vaporizing and contaminating indoor air.
Julia Brody, PhD, Executive Director, Silent Spring Institute, leader in research on breast cancer and the environment and in community-based research and public engagement in science. Her work connects breast cancer advocacy, scientific research, and environmental justice. Julie’s current research focuses on methods for reporting to people on their own exposures to emerging contaminants.
Jim Luker, MS, LSP, CPG, Vice President of Environmental Services, Green Seal Environmental Inc., works on Public Involvement Participation sites and has managed over 100 remediation projects achieving closure. Whether assisting a town in their assessment of impacts of a polluting landfill, or ensuring safe and proper cleanup of contaminated soil on schools, Jim has worked tirelessly to provide his expertise to communities who truly need it.
Marco Kaltofen, MS, PE (Civil, MA), President, Boston Chemical Data Corporation, provides technical support for environmentally-related organizations and for litigation. Marco has supported citizen groups in pollution prevention and cleanup activities for decades.
Dick Clapp, D.Sc., MPH, Professor Emeritus, Boston University School of Public Health, founder of the Massachusetts Cancer Registry and epidemiologist. Dick has gone above and beyond the call of duty in his research, testimony, and broader assistance to communities and workers across New England and across the country, and for this reason we subtitled the award, “The Dick Clapp Award.” Whether assisting Vermont residents with an epidemiological study to investigate why so many children in town have leukemia or flying to California to defend the rights of IBM workers poisoned by their work environments, Dick is constantly working to create the world in which we all want to live.