NAUGATUCK – Mayor Bob Mezzo called Mary Lou Sharron a pioneer, a leader, a visionary, godmother of environmentalism in Naugatuck.
On April 21, Mezzo called her Earth Mayor for the Day. Earth Day, Mezzo said, is something that doesn’t divide people by ideology or party. The Earth is something all cultures share, that binds people together, he said.
Sharron has fought valiantly for environmental causes. She played an important role in shutting down the toxic landfill that poisoned Naugatuck from 1947 to 1989.
“It started at the bottom of the hill when I moved from that part of town to this part of town. It took me 16 years to get from the bottom of the hill to climb to the top to get 50 people on a waterline and get the superfund site shut down,” Sharron said.
She said she was rocking her baby one night when she noticed trucks going up her hill. Sharron soon found out that those trucks were indiscriminately dumping toxic waste into the Laurel Park landfill at the top of the hill. Pretty soon, she noticed orange leachate seeping down the creak behind her house. Runoff from the landfill was killing trees and plants in the area and poisoning farmer’s chickens. Sharron’s neighbor was bathing in benzene. Her eyes burned every time she took a shower, according to Sharron.
Sharron couldn’t help asking herself, “Why?”
“This is my part of the American Dream,” she said.
It was time for her to “kick butt,” Sharron said.
Sharron fought to get the landfill shut down. Her views were not popular. She was booed at town meetings and the mayor interrupted her every time she spoke, she said. She said her car windshield was busted, her phone was tapped, and her daughter’s horse was poisoned several times while she fought to shut the landfill down.
But she didn’t give up. Sharron founded the Pollution Extermination Group to lobby local, state and federal officials to clean up the site.
The landfill, which opened in 1947, was finally closed in 1989.
Sharron continued to lobby to get a cap placed on the defunct landfill so rainwater couldn’t get in. She succeeded in 1997. She also lobbied for the town to run a clean waterline up to the residents who previously had contaminated well water.
Tests done as recently at 2008 show that the water around the site is still contaminated, Sharron said. She said a health study should be done on the people who lived near the site. Sharron said she counted at least six miscarriages from women who were exposed to the contamination. She also said scientists should study soil samples from residences on the mountain to check for contamination.
Even after she won her battle, Sharron didn’t stop working for the environment.
Sharron was active in the borough’s organic food co-op and Earth Day celebrations on the Green, she said. She has also participated in national and international environmental conferences, including a women’s conference in Rio.
Despite all her work, people are still dumping trash where they shouldn’t, Sharron said. Just the other day, she saw a man with a mattress on his roof heading up her hill, she said.
“Although we’ve come a long way, the struggle still continues,” Mezzo said.
The Naugatuck Environmental Network presented Mezzo with a list of proposals to improve the environment in Naugatuck. It suggested coordinating with the mayor of Waterbury to preserve Big Hill woodlands, stop hunting along the Naugatuck River, create a Naugatuck Conservation Commission, and secure wind energy for Naugatuck.
Mezzo said the town was already addressing two of those issues. The Board of Mayor and Burgesses has asked its legal council to look into how they can stop hunting along the river, and is in the process of creating a Conservation Commission.
He said other environmental efforts in Naugatuck include cleaning up the pollution on the Parcel C brownfield, which is nearly complete.
Sharron’s tireless efforts in protecting the environment were celebrated during a ceremony at Town Hall.
“Every person who lives in Naugatuck is able to celebrate the goodness that she has provided in bringing the awareness of Earth Day, and the cleanliness back, and the beauty back to this community,” said state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas.
Sharron said she was thrilled to be named Naugatuck’s first Earth Mayor of the Day.
“See those clouds up there?” she asked. “I’m sitting on top of them.”