Bay Area Jefferson Award went to Sherry Padgett, the Richmond
woman who discovered that state agencies in charge of toxic
cleanups in Richmond were asleep at the wheel. As a result of a
grass roots movement inspired by Sherry, major organizational
changes in state agencies and responsibilities occurred. To see
a video clip, go to
to take personal credit and defers to the many community
activists who rallied to help: “Deep thanks to the broad
community for taking action on what is referenced as one of the
top ten most toxic sites in the Bay Area and in the top few
percent of toxic sites in the State. This award isn’t mine – it
is a reflection of an involved community.”
Jefferson Awards go back to 1972, when Jacqueline Kennedy
Onassis, U.S. Senator Robert Taft, Jr. and Sam Beard founded the
American Institute for Public Service, a 501c3 public
foundation, to establish a Nobel Prize for public and community
The Jefferson Awards.
7, 2005 4:11 pm US/Pacific
Richmond Woman Brings Attention To A Toxic Threat
Just a couple of years after the popular movie Erin Brocovich,
another California crusader is getting attention for standing up
for her community.
For years, Sherry Padgett shunned the limelight while working as
an accountant. Recently though, Padgett has become a public
figure for her work on 85 acres of the Richmond waterfront.
“This site was the site of toxic chemicals being manufactured
for over 100 years,” Padgett says.
It’s also the location of Padgett’s office. She first became
aware of the EPA hazardous site in 1998, when a cleanup began
and dust started blowing.
“I would go out, if you can believe how naïve I was,” Padgett
says. “I would go out two to three times a week and sweep the
driveway, the entire parking lot with a push broom. Dust was
After five years of sweeping up dust, Sherry got sick.
“I was diagnosed with a very rare cancer, an extremely rare
cancer, condro sarcoma,” Padgett says. “It's a tumor of the
cartilage. They took out a tumor larger than a hard boiled egg,
along with four ribs, part of my sternum, part of my diaphragm
and all of my abdominal muscles on the left side."
Since then, she has developed a number of other medical
problems. While there is no conclusive link between Sherry’s
illness and the dust, she found at least 50 people in the
neighborhood with cancers and other illnesses.
As she battled her illness, she took up another fight. She began
spending some 3,000 hours scrutinizing reports about the toxic
site. She started organizing community protests, and told her
story to members of the California Assembly.
After the hearing, Assemblywoman Lonnie Hancock introduced two
bills to make changes in the way the state’s toxic cleanups are
handled. She says plans to build an office complex, and 1,300
housing units, were put on hold.
“I believe that sherry has saved a generation of people who
perhaps would have lived on that site,” says Assemblywoman
Hancock. “Now we've put into motion systemic change, so that no
other community will hopefully have to go through this kind of
"There wasn't anyone watching this,” Padgett says. “I thought
there were super toxic cops looking out for us. I had no idea
there wasn't anyone watching this day to day, week to week,
month to month.”
So for becoming a super toxic cop in order to make her community
safer, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to
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