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Success Stories
Mercury Controls at Last
Campaign Update
A Boom in Fracking Threatens Communities Across America
Feature Stories
Big Oil Won't Let the Tar Sands Pipeline Die
NRDC, Redford Challenge Shell
Don't Frack the Catskills!
One Woman, Fighting for Justice, Turns Tragedy into Inspiration
Oil Companies Hijack Canadian Energy Decisions
NRDC Sues to Protect Whales from New Sonar Deployment
In The News
Cleaner Future for Cars
Online Features
Green Burials
This Green Life's Nature Map: Share Your Favorite Places!

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Feature Story
One Woman, Fighting for Justice, Turns Tragedy into Inspiration
Her case has been called the "poster child" of the environmental justice movement. And after a heroic nine-year struggle, Sheila Holt-Orsted has finally prevailed in her fight to secure something most Americans take for granted: a community's access to safe drinking water and protection from toxic well water.

Her legal settlement with the city and county of Dickson, Tennessee, capped a long legal battle waged by NRDC and the Holt family. "Before this, I assumed that clean water was available to all," says Holt-Orsted. "I hope this case sends the message that it should be."

Holt-Orsted's crusade began in 2003 with the terrible news that her father, Harry Holt, had been diagnosed with cancer, which was followed a short time later by her own diagnosis. They weren't alone. A startling number of neighbors in their predominantly African-American community were also suffering from some form of disease. Trichloroethylene (TCE), a highly toxic industrial chemical known to cause cancer, had been dumped for decades in an unlined landfill nearby.

Through determination and persistence, and grieving the loss of her father in 2007, Holt-Orsted discovered that TCE had seeped into her family's well. Moreover, she learned that government officials had known of the contamination since 1988 but waited more than a decade before switching the family over to municipal water -- all the while assuring the Holts that their well water was safe to drink. Other locals were receiving a different message: A number of white residents had been warned of the danger and put on municipal water years earlier.

"Sheila proved that one person can change the system," says Michael Wall, senior attorney with NRDC's Environmental Justice program. "Thanks to her, the people of Dickson County will not have to fear they will be poisoned when they turn on the tap."

Photo of Sheila Holt-Orsted
Sheila Holt-Orsted at the grave site of her father, who died in 2007.


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