In 1989 Kory Johnson's older sister died at the age of 16 from heart problems that were likely to have been caused by contaminated well water her mother drank while pregnant. After attending a bereavement support group for children in her community, nine year old Johnson discovered that many families in her neighborhood had lost a loved one and that the area was a cancer cluster. Deciding that she and other youth needed to speak up against the environmental health hazards they face, Johnson formed Children for a Safe Environment (CFSE). Against the advice of some of her teachers, who cautioned that her activism would harm her chances of getting into college, Johnson became a tireless advocate and organizer for environmental justice. With many victories behind them, CFSE is now 359 members strong. Most of these youth live in underprivileged neighborhoods that are often targets for incinerators or industrial waste dumps.
CFSE's first battle was against the enormous ENSCO hazardous waste incinerator and dump that was being planned for a poor Arizona community. In a contract with the state of Arizona, ENSCO intended to dispose of all hazardous waste produced by the state, as well as hundreds of thousands of tons of toxic materials from out of state. Through letter writing, public education, protests, demonstrations and children's art projects, Johnson and CFSE teamed with Greenpeace Action and effectively fought the project. The youths' tenaciousness and savvy drew the attention of the media, and in 1991 the governor of Arizona canceled plans for the ENSCO hazardous waste incinerator as a result of the protests.
Since that time Johnson has traveled around the U.S. speaking on behalf of children in minority communities whose well-being has been compromised by polluting industries and waste sites. In 1991, students from the tri-state area of Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania pooled their money to purchase a plane ticket for Johnson, who met with their newly-formed children's environmental group and spoke out against the WTI incinerator being built in the heart of their community. In 1996, she took part in a protest co-organized by CFSE, Greenpeace and other environmental justice groups at a railroad spur in Mobile, Arizona to stop the arrival of 45 train car loads of DDT-contaminated dirt from a California Superfund site. Johnson is of Native American and Mexican American descent and is a student at Arizona State University. She has recently worked with Native Americans and other groups in Ward Valley, California, where a government radioactive waste dump is planned.
Johnson has crusaded in her own community, educating about recycling, Styrofoam reduction and the waste problems associated with disposable diapers. In addition to her work for the environment, this energetic young woman also devotes time to sick children, disaster victims, the homeless and AIDS groups.
Goldman Environmental Foundation
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