Fitting for an organization that typically meets in living rooms, the annual Toxics Action Center fundraising party takes place at a member’s home.

“I’m honored that they wanted to use my house,” said Kristin Uhlig of Gorham, who was a little surprised because she doesn’t have an ocean or lake view like previous hosts. What she does have is a woodsy yard that borders the Mount Division Rail Trail in Gorham.

Food and drinks were donated by 10 local businesses, including Allagash, Romano’s, and Izzy’s Cheesecakes, creating an unusually festive spread for talking about toxins.

“Tonight is about celebrating all the amazing activism in Maine working for clear air and clean water,” said Sylvia Broude, executive director of Toxics Action Center.

Four years ago, Uhlig and some of her neighbors got together and wondered why the state was spraying pesticide on the railway that runs parallel to the Mountain Division Rail Trail, a popular spot for running, biking, walking dogs, jumping in for a swim, and even picking berries.

“Some of us neighbors — about 10 of us — got together and created a neighborhood group to stop the spraying,” said Tia Simon.

Uhlig, who had recently retired from teaching elementary school in Portland, stepped up to lead the new group, called Citizens for a Greener Gorham.

“I feel like our greatest success is bringing more attention to the issue and bringing questions to the department of transportation, keeping an eye on what’s happening,” Uhlig said.

The Gorham neighborhood’s effort is now a legal one. For that, Citizens for a Greener Gorham sought help from Toxics Action Center, a nonprofit that has been helping communities prevent and clean up pollution for 25 years. Toxics Action Center was formed in response to the tragic toxic dumping case in Woburn, Mass., documented in the book and film “A Civil Action.”

Since Toxics Action Center expanded to Maine in 1999, it has worked with community groups statewide, including Camden, Scarborough, Brunswick, Harpswell and Wiscasset.

“They don’t come into a town and tell them what to do,” said Barbara West, who drove more than an hour from Arrowsic to attend the party. “The direction always comes from the local people.”

The house party was also a place to celebrate the Concerned Citizens of South Portland and its efforts to prevent tar sands oil from being moved through a pipeline in Maine.

The pipeline, built during World War II, crosses the Crooked River six times, and the Crooked River flows into Sebago Lake, a major water supply for Mainers.

“It’s too big of a risk,” says Rachel Burger, who formed Concerned Citizens of South Portland with other South Portland residents this spring.

“South Portland is presently a beautiful place,” she said, referring to Bug Light, Spring Point Light and Willard Beach as community treasures.

Last month, Concerned Citizens of South Portland collected nearly 4,000 signatures to put the tar sands issue on the ballot with a focus on land use and waterfront protection. The group is working with Toxics Action Center and Environment Maine.

“It was clear to me that in a few short weeks we had built a movement in South Portland,” said Emily Figdor, director of Environment Maine. “Still, we have a big fight on our hands.” 

Amy Paradysz is a freelance writer based in Scarborough. She can be reached at:

amyedits@aol.com