By Liz Goodiel, CHEJ Science and Tech Fellow

The holiday season, and Thanksgiving in particular, is the time of the year where we all take time to reflect on the things in our lives we are thankful for. Some might give thanks for a loving family, supportive friends, a steady job or maybe even just a roof over one’s head. Another thing to be thankful for is the hard work communities have accomplished over the last year. 

One thing to be thankful for is leaders and groups who are working hard for the health and protection of their communities. Individual communities across the country have been burdened by toxic chemicals, abandoned waste facilities, contaminated water sources and various other threats to public health. To combat these issues and to seek justice on behalf of their impacted neighbors, leaders everywhere have been speaking up and working tirelessly for remediation. We give thanks to the people who refuse to give up and continue to fight their local problems. 

One example of a leader who won’t quit is Lee Ann Smith, the cofounder of P.O.W.E.R. Action Group in Asheville, North Carolina. A mother of two, Ms. Smith is an elementary school librarian by day and a local activist by night. Alongside her community, Lee Ann has fought without rest for the cleanup of an abandoned CTS facility with residual radioactive waste. She has attended a handful of meetings with her representatives, assisted in countless protests and has even met with some of the highest officials in the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). From her fight and the support of her neighbors, the CTS Superfund site has received cleanup action with a plan for further remediation. However, there is still work to be done and her willingness to fight won’t end until the battle is over and her community receives a complete cleanup. 

Lee Ann is just one example of the thousands of leaders taking the charge against unjust community exposure to harmful contaminants. We give great thanks to all of the people speaking up about their local concerns and taking action to address the problem. We give thanks to those that schedule community meetings to hear all the voices of those individuals that are most impacted. We give thanks to those who march alongside their neighbors to raise awareness and to organize others for the common goal. We give thanks to the leaders that consistently contact their local political leaders and we give thanks to those political leaders that fight for their constituency with their concerns at the forefront. 

Everyday, people across the country are burdened with environment and/or public health problems; today, we give thanks to all of those who refuse to give up the fight.