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Connecticut Citizens Receive Prestigious Regional EPA Environmental Award

Release Date: 05/10/2011
Contact Information: EPA Office of Public Affairs, (617) 918-1010

(Boston, Mass. – May 10, 2011) – Three Connecticut citizens and two environmental groups from the Nutmeg State will be honored tomorrow in Boston’s Faneuil Hall as EPA presented its annual Environmental Merit Awards for 2011.

The merit awards, recognizing valuable contributions to environmental awareness and problem solving, are a unique way that EPA can recognize individuals and groups that are making significant impacts on environmental quality in distinct ways.

Awarded by EPA since 1970, the merit awards honor individuals and groups who have shown particular ingenuity and commitment in their efforts to preserve the region's environment. This year's competition drew 56 nominations from across New England.

Awards were given in the following categories: individual; business (including professional organizations); local, state or federal government; and environmental, community, academia or nonprofit organization. Each year, EPA also may present lifetime achievement awards for individuals.

More information on all Environmental Merit Award Winners from this year and past years is available at: http://www.epa.gov/region1/ra/ema/index.html

The Environmental Merit Award Winners from Connecticut are:

Lifetime Achievement Environmental Merit Award:

Richard Harris and Peter Fraboni
Richard Harris, Director, and Peter Fraboni, Associate Director, have dedicated their careers to the environment. They established Harbor Watch/River Watch (HW/RW) in 1986 as a citizen’s monitoring program that gathered data on hypoxia in local harbors. In 1993, the organization became part of Earthplace, a nature and science museum with a mission to educate the community about the environment. Founded in 1958 and accredited by The American Association of Museums, Earthplace maintains a 62-acre wildlife sanctuary with exhibits, trails and an interactive natural history museum, complete with wildlife dioramas and live wildlife for public viewing. It also hosts public nature programs and events.

Harbor Watch/River Watch connects science and action, identifying problems in watersheds and interacting with experts equipped to remediate them. There have been many successes over the past 23 years, and the program has expanded to include dozens of volunteers, mentors and interns. Each year several students spend time learning and conducting important monitoring and sample collection. During 2009 and 2010, HW/RW hosted more than 40 students, giving them a base of education for their continued learning.

Some of the organization’s annual activities and achievements include cleanups of local tributaries; monitoring tributaries for various chemical, physical and microbial parameters; organizing a local Earth Day event by inviting many vendors and developing educational displays; hosting kayak trips educating the public about the local tributaries and their resources; and conducting resource studies and population surveys for fisheries, lobster, freshwater invertebrates as well as including water quality testing for dissolved oxygen (DO), nutrients, and phosphorus. Recent achievements include establishing a water quality laboratory that was certified by the State of Connecticut and the EPA along Norwalk Harbor to monitor water quality from the Norwalk River to the harbor and identified pipes. Results were used to monitor pollution to the nearby bathing beaches and shell fishing areas of Long Island Sound.

Leslie J. Mehrhoff (posthumous)
The late Leslie J. Mehrhoff of Willington, Conn. was an outstanding botanist who was well known in Connecticut, New England and the nation. He was an accomplished and enthusiastic naturalist and received his graduate training at the University of Connecticut. He worked for many years with Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection before becoming the manager of the Torrey Herbarium at the University of Connecticut. During his career, Les inspired, encouraged, mentored and educated many people, influencing botanists, biologists, legislators, students and gardeners young and old. His innumerable presentations on biodiversity and the importance of protecting species and their natural communities included his renowned high-quality photographs. He worked tirelessly to protect endangered species and to prevent the negative impacts from invasive species. In recent years, he traveled to China to promote control of invasive species. He had a spirited sense of humor, and his sense of wonder about the natural world gave him a childlike innocence. Les’ life work made incalculable contributions to the protection of biodiversity and ecosystems throughout Connecticut and New England. He was instrumental in gaining passage of Connecticut’s Endangered Species statutes, in  publishing The Connecticut Butterfly Atlas and in development of The Atlas of Breeding Birds of Connecticut, and The Atlas of Ground Beetles of Connecticut (Coleoptera: Carabidae, excluding Cicindelini). He retired in 2009 and passed away in 2010.

Mark Mitchell, M.D., MPH
Founder and President of the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice, with local chapters in Hartford, New Haven and Bridgeport, Dr. Mitchell has worked in the environmental and public health sector for over 20 years, providing assistance to low-income and communities of color. He has dedicated his life to teaching these impacted communities ways to reduce and/or prevent disproportionately higher rates of disease. Through grassroots organizing and leadership development in low-income urban communities, Dr. Mitchell has demonstrated a sustained commitment to improving the environment and public health.

During his four years as Director of the City of Hartford’s Health Department, Dr. Mitchell became increasingly aware that many diseases on the rise were linked to the environment and took steps to address this. He lobbied the Connecticut General Assembly for creation of a statewide asthma data collection system and persuaded the City of Hartford to declare an Asthma Emergency, which funded projects to address the high rates of asthma in Hartford. One is the Asthma Speakers Bureau, which educates communities on environmental contributors to asthma and how to best manage the disease. In addition, Dr. Mitchell leveraged the ordinance with a recycling facility permit application that prompted the Connecticut Resource Recovery Authority to retrofit their heavy duty diesel equipment at all their solid waste treatment and storage facilities and to fund the installation of diesel retrofits on 27 municipal solid waste trucks which now run 90% cleaner.

In 2008, Dr. Mitchell collaborated with approximately 30 organizations to enact the state’s first environmental justice law that defines environmental justice communities, specifies major pollution facilities and requires enhanced public outreach prior to any permit decision by the state DEP and the Connecticut Siting Council. It encourages industry, the local chief elected official and the environmental justice community to negotiate an environmental benefit agreement to offset potential additional pollution emissions or burdens associated with the proposed permit. Working with the Coalition for a Safe & Healthy CT, his efforts helped pass legislation to reduce lead and asbestos in children’s toys sold in the state that same year.

Dr. Mitchell has served on the U.S. EPA’s National Environmental Justice Advisory Board and is currently a member of the U.S. EPA’s National Advisory Council on Environmental Policy and Technology, as well as Chair of the Community Advocacy, Leadership and Research Group of the US CDC/ATSDR National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures. He is the founding member of the City of Hartford’s Commission on the Environment and a member of the Capital Region Council of Government’s Transportation Committee.

Environmental, Community, Academia, & Non-profit Organizations Environmental Merit Award:

Green Village Initiative
Dan Levinson, Westport, Conn.

The Town of Westport, Conn., and its neighbors are impressed by the work of Dan Levinson with the Green Village Initiative. In three years, he engaged an enthusiastic group of volunteers to work to protect the environment, including scientists, academics, business leaders, activists, media professionals, artists, government representatives and students. The Green Village Initiative focuses on projects with the best chance of success, including development of an historic town farm and creation of a sustainability center; promotion of community supported agriculture; creation of an edible garden at Westport High School and supervised construction of community and school gardens in Bridgeport. The group also helped Westport Public Library transform its café into a model of healthy local food and rehabilitated Westport’s Sherwood Mill Pond preserve. None of this would have happened without Dan, who got it going and keeps it moving forward.

North Haven Citizens’ Advisory Panel
North Haven, Conn.

Annette Gattilia, Rico Gattilia, Miriam Brody, David Monz, Hugh Davis, Tom Roberts
In 1979, Annette and Rico Gattilia of North Haven first raised concerns about site contamination at the Pharmacia & Upjohn Company at 41 Stiles Lane in North Haven. Manufacturing areas, lagoons and waste piles had become contaminated during the 150 years of industrial operations; operations ended in 1993. Work by the Gattilias to educate the public about this site ultimately led to an EPA cleanup. Over the next three decades, the Gattilias remained committed to keeping the community informed and finding a remedy. In 1995, the North Haven Citizens’ Advisory Panel was formed by the town as a conduit between the community and the company. Annette and Rico were founding members of the panel, along with Miriam Brody, David Monz, Hugh Davis, Tom Roberts and several other residents. Since then, the panel has met repeatedly with corporate representatives and state and federal regulators. The panel worked closely with Pfizer, the current site owner, to make sure the community took part in cleanup decisions. As a result, about 17 acres have been set aside for commercial or light industrial use, more than 60 acres are being restored for an ecological preserve, and an interpretive trail and new open space will be created on the banks of the Quinnipiac River. The North Haven Citizens’ Advisory Panel provided the resolve needed to redevelop this site.

 

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