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New YorkThe Center for Health, Environment and Justice, and People’s Action Institute are pleased to announce our third Champions for Change Commemorative Event. The celebration honors 40 years of progress since the Love Canal struggle in 1978, as well as our champions.

The celebration is Thursday, Sept. 6, at 6:30 p.m. at the Blender Workspace, 135 Madison Avenue, 8th Floor, NY, NY.

Forty years ago Love Canal woke up the world to the detrimental public health impacts of toxic chemicals in our environment. The crisis stirred a whirlwind of activities around workplace health standards and the critical need to remove hazardous industrial chemicals from our water, air, soil, and consumer products.

Superfund, followed by Right-to-Know, were the first laws that protected workers and communities around industrial sites from environmental hazards. In the past 40 years, significant cultural and regulatory changes have advanced recycling, banned toxic products, and introduced green chemistry, green energy and so much more.

We still have a long way to go. Today, there is an effort to undo many of our historical advances. We need to fight back together. This celebration is an opportunity to catch our breath for a couple of hours, recognize and celebrate our accomplishments over the past 40 years, and recognize this year’s incredible Champions of Change.

Our Champions of Change:

Dr. Beverly Paigen. Dr. Paigen was the scientist at Love Canal in 1978 who made the connections between human health effects such as a 56 percent birth defect rate in the community and toxic chemical exposures from the neighboring 20,000-ton dumpsite.

It was with great courage, and personal and professional sacrifice, that Dr. Paigen stood up and spoke out about the human suffering at Love Canal. Dr. Paigen’s study at Love Canal landed her in direct conflict with her boss, the New York State Department of Health Commissioner.

As a researcher at a state institution she was retaliated against including reducing her laboratory staff, refusal to sign grant agreements that she secured, and later being audited personally by the state IRS. Despite the serious harassment and attack on her research capacities, she stood her ground. She did not back down.

As a result of her work the community received relocation benefits for all of the 800 families who wished to leave with compensation for their property or to enable renters to afford to move.

Jackie Young, Texas Health & Environment Alliance. Jackie was working with another organization when she called to say she wanted to spin off and create an organization that focused on environmental chemicals and their impacts on community health.

That was four years ago. Today Jackie Young is an extraordinary community organizer and leader in the Houston area. Not only is she accomplished in creating a powerful organization, Jackie fearlessly speaks truth to power and never backs down.

One recent example is when Scott Pruitt visited Houston last year after the flooding event. He was planning on touring the Superfund site after Jackie’s organization pressured him to do that. At 1 a.m., Jackie received an e-mail from a journalist asking if she was joining Pruitt at the site the next day. Yes, she responded even though she had no idea he was coming and she wasn’t invited. She drove her car to the only access road to the site, blocked it and waited for Pruitt to return to his car. When he arrived, she jumped out of her car with a folder of information, and photos and told Pruitt the community’s story about the site.

They finally got EPA to agree to remove all wastes in the pits at a cost of about $115 million dollars. This victory would not have been possible without the Jackie Young and her neighbors.

PUSH Buffalo. PUSH (People United for Sustainable Housing) Buffalo promotes a model of Just Transition: to Build the New, Stop the Bad, Invest in Our Power, and Divest from Their Power. Their affordable housing strategy is focused on building new capacity to own land and create affordable housing while building power to change the way development works in Buffalo, New York.

PUSH Buffalo believes that creating more equitable housing is essential, and is working on a campaign to pass a Zoning Policy and introduce an Affordable Housing Policy Platform that takes power away from developers and gives it back to residents.

One extraordinary step to reach this goal was their purchasing School 77 that was abandoned for six years. Rehab is underway to provide more affordable housing. When completed, School 77 will include 30 low-income senior apartments, a youth gymnasium, a community theater and offices for other local organizations. PUSH was awarded Low Income Housing Tax Credit funding for the project in and construction broke ground in Spring 2017. A community solar array is planned for the project as a result of PUSH Buffalo securing $90,000 in public funding of a 65 KW community solar installation on the roof.

This will allow PUSH to own the installation and offer tenants in the building and the surrounding neighborhood the opportunity to subscribe to electricity generated by the system that would save them money on their electric bills. PUSH Buffalo’s work is a model for community-shared solar co-op in Buffalo and throughout the U.S.

The Center for Health, Environment & Justice has been helping build healthy communities nationwide since 1981. CHEJ is the nation’s leading resource for grassroots environmental activism.

Founder Lois Gibbs, known as “The Mother of Superfund,” led the historic fight in 1978 to relocate 800 of her neighbors away from toxic waste in her Love Canal neighborhood in Niagara Falls, NY.

CHEJ is a project of People’s Action Institute, bringing power, programs and resources a national network of organizations working for environmental, economic, racial and gender justice

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About People’s Action Institute

Over five decades, People’s Action Institute and our affiliates have fought for reforms that recognize poor and working people’s dignity and make material and political improvements to millions of lives. Our victories include the Community Reinvestment Act, Superfund, the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Act and the MAT Act.

We engage in issue campaigns, public education and training to advance a long-term agenda for racial, economic and gender justice. Our focus now is on deepening community organizing so we can build lasting power across the country. 

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