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  Jefferson Award to Padgett
September 8, 2005

This week’s 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 http://cbs5.com/jeffersonawards.  

Sherry refuses 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.” 

The 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 service - The Jefferson Awards.

Sep 7, 2005 4:11 pm US/Pacific

Richmond Woman Brings Attention To A Toxic Threat

 (CBS 5) 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 everywhere.”

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 process."

"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 Sherry Padgett.

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