Community Awareness Raising


Community Awareness Raising


In what ways have community activists tried to call attention to environmental concerns at the Gorham site?


Adriana Isaza


Those whose lives and experiences are touched by the environmental problems created at the Gorham Manufacturing site have over the years found ways of coming together to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed. The citizens have organized both to put pressure on state officials and organizations to clean up the site and provide information to residents, and also to educate each other about health and environmental concerns through community organized activities.
One organization that has been key in helping to bring together the communities around the Gorham site for discussion and education is the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island. This organization has helped to create a forum for community leaders to bring up their concerns and has also sponsored community meetings to inform residents on the ongoing work to clean up the Gorham site. In 2010, the Environmental Justice League held two main meetings regarding Gorham. The first was on March 10th at the Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Avenue. This meeting, sponsored by the CARE Alliance brought Joe Martella, the Site Manager for the Gorham site for the Department of Environmental Management to talk to residents about the clean-up actions taking place to protect residents from the contamination.
The following month, a group of community organizers organized another community forum to bring attention to the Gorham site and its environmental and health hazards. This forum, held on May 11th, was supported again by the Environmental Justice League, whose website wrote,
“Recently a group of residents living near the site – which in addition to Alvarez High School also has a now-vacant Stop & Shop building and gas station – has come together again to work with the responsible parties – the Providence Redevelopment Agency, the Department of Environmental Management, and Textron – to ensure that everything is being done to fully protect residents from contamination still on the site, as well as communicate with residents about progress on the site’s full cleanup and redevelopment.”

The Environmental Justice League held another event later in 2010 which took place at the Renaissance Church in the Mashapaugh Commons Shopping Plaza on the evening of August 30th. This meeting brought together residents to “hear about the work the [Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry] ATSDR is doing at the former Gorham Manufacturing Facility Site” . This meeting brought together representatives from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, the Rhode Island Department of Health, Textron Corporation and the City of Providence and centered on health assessments and future planning for the Gorham site.
An EcoRI News report recapping this last meeting reveals that much of the community’s concern is currently the state of Parcel C, the still untreated and undeveloped parcel west of Alvarez High School. Not only are there questions about the future plans for this parcel, but there are also concerns about the soil from that site blowing around the neighborhood to people’s houses and to the school.
All of these community events reflect a long-standing concern on behalf of the citizens regarding the environmental issues within their neighborhood. While they may get support from larger organizations, they create movement towards change by coming together and asking for help from such organizations and putting pressure on politicians to pay attention to their demands. This is well illustrated by a letter written by the Coalition of Concerned Citizens for the Reservoir Triangle and South Providence to the Mayor of the City of Providence, the Acting Director for the Department of Public Property, and the Director of the Providence Redevelopment Agency in 2006:
“At recent community meetings regarding the Gorham/Textron Dumps Site…members of our organization have repeatedly queried the RI Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM) as to the status of the former Stop & Shop facility…at the Gorham/Textron Dumps Site. Since no representative of the City has chosen to attend these meetings, the RIDEM could not provide answers to our questions.”
This short segment of the letter demonstrates the community’s ability to organize, their awareness of the environmental concerns, and the frustration with the lack of responsiveness on the part of the city. The letter goes on to ask for clarification on “what remediation technology is currently in place for the building on Parcel B [Alvarez High School]” .
When state officials have been unresponsive, the residents have taken matters into their own hands. As reported by EcoRI, on June 26th of 2010 residents of the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood came together to put up signs on the fence surrounding Parcel C warning people to stay out of the area. These hand-painted signs, written in both English and Spanish, were the neighborhood’s response to the failure of the Providence Redevelopment Agency to adhere to a court order mandating that the fence around the contaminated land have an eight foot fence around it, trees and shrubs to deter trespassing, and signs in both English and Spanish. As of October of 2011, the city still has not put up signs on the fence, but the residents’ signs remain.
In a further attempt to raise awareness of the contamination caused by pollution at the Gorham site, and particularly the effects of that pollution on Mashapaug Pond, the residents of the Reservoir Triangle neighborhood, again with the support of the Environmental Justice League, held the Fourth Annual Urban Pond Procession in May of 2011. As part of this event, workshops were held to educate the public about environmental issues and also about the history of Gorham Silver Manufacturing Company. Thus, the community has shown that it can organize to put pressure on officials and demand change, but that when such efforts show no response, they can also take charge of the effort to raise awareness and educate local residents about the environmental concerns at the Gorham site.

[see attached file for further research and bibliography]




Adriana Isaza, “Community Awareness Raising,” Reservoir of Memories, accessed September 23, 2020,