Good Neighbor Campaigns

Ohio Citizen Action good neighbor campaigns

1998 - 2008

Sandy Buchanan, former Executive Director
Graphics by Aaron Koonce

In the past, Ohio Citizen Action has devoted a significant amount of its resources to running -- and winning -- "good neighbor campaigns," which use the power of community organizing to cause major polluters to prevent pollution at their facilities. The campaigns succeeded in winning changes far beyond what federal or state regulations would require.

The Good Neighbor Campaign model includes a series of elements outlined below. While we applied the model to each campaign, every situation developed its own character because of the varying natures of the companies, communities, and pollutants. 

Elements of a good neighbor campaign

Researching pollution problems

Initial research for a good neighbor campaign includes collecting data on emissions, going through permit files at regulatory agencies, researching citizen complaints, compiling basic information on the company's financial situation and structure, and most importantly, interviewing neighbors, workers, fire fighters, and regulatory agency personnel about their experiences with the company. 

Planning the strategy

Every campaign must have a written strategy, outlining the approaches to be used to get the company to reduce pollution. The strategy will be reviewed and revised as the campaign develops. Strategic elements might include, for example, what type of environmental violations to focus on first, whether to approach the company's customers or suppliers, or how to work with neighborhood organizations or coalitional allies.

Community organizing

Each campaign begins with a "walk and talk" of the community, where volunteers go door-to-door meeting neighbors of the company, surveying them about their experiences with the pollution, and urging them to get involved. This canvassing is repeated periodically throughout the campaign, and can also include health surveys and distribution of pollution logs which neighbors use to track the times and dates of pollution episodes. A major goal of the campaign is to develop local leadership, either by working with people who have already spoken up about pollution problems or with people who are getting involved for the first time.

Opening lines of communication with company decision-makers

Throughout the campaign, we want to have a line of communication with the company, to exchange information, learn about their operations, react to developments,and, in some cases, negotiate a series of commitments to make changes. If the company will not talk with us at the beginning of the campaign, we will continue to search for ways to communicate with them throughout the campaign. Citizen tours of the plant or citizen inspections with their own experts can also be useful in some circumstances to learn about the facility, and exchange information.

Conducting citizen-based testing

Conducting community sampling of air pollution, water quality, or particulates, is a key element of every campaign. We have used the "bucket brigade" air sampling, swipe sampling, water sampling, and other techniques. While the tests are conducted by volunteers, the results are analyzed at certified laboratories. The test results serve as a catalyst for more expensive and extensive testing by regulators or the facilities themselves, and help both the residents and the media understand the issues at stake.


Appealing to conscience

All of our campaigns involve asking thousands of members of Ohio Citizen Action, who live in the region of the polluter, to write personal, hand-written letters to company decision-makers urging them to become a good neighbor. These letters demonstrate the breadth of the public"s interest in the problem, show that the company is under public scrutiny, and spur the company to take positive actions which it can report back to these individuals.

Working with the media

A strong and active campaign will interest local media. The media is particularly interested in covering personal stories of individuals affected by the pollution, citizen-conducted tests, direct action tactics, and major changes being made by the facility. We can also create our own media to tell stories or break news, through posting photos of accidents or pollution incidents on our website,, as soon as they occur. We can also post large volumes of searchable company documents on our website, and can produce our own videotapes or documentaries.


'Getting to Yes'

Once a company has recognized the need to make changes in its daily operations to prevent pollution, there are many ways of "getting to yes." These can involve anything from a formal negotiation between the community and the company to a unilateral announcement by the company that it has improved its operations.

Giving credit when changes are made

It is important to give public recognition to companies who have decided to become good neighbors. This recognition can take the form of a joint press release or press conference, a letter from us to the company memorializing the changes which have taken place, or a celebration with the neighbors.

Following up

Once the public phase of the campaign has ended, it makes sense to maintain the relationship with company officials over time. The ongoing contact often takes the form of a community task force or working group which meets regularly to discuss current issues or to monitor progress on commitments which have been made.


Ohio Citizen Action has conducted the following major good neighbor campaigns from 1998-2008:

Company Pollution problems Campaign results
Eramet, Marietta
Metal refinery processing manganese to stregthen steel and purifying chromium for use in jet engines 

•  5 million pounds of pollution each year into air, land and Ohio River
•  Community of 25,000 people exposed to odors and airborne manganese, a neurotoxin, since 1951 
• 53 known accidents and malfunctions, just since Eramet purchased the facility in 2000
•  Commitment to $150 million in investments, including replacement of most problem-plagued furnace with a new state-of-the-art model and odor abatement technology
•  Construction of a new baghouse to prevent particulate stack emissions from their largest furnace by 54% 
•  New procedures, training and equipment to prevent accidents in the furnace areas
Mittal Steel, Cleveland
Integrated steel mill 

•  Single largest polluter of the air and water in Cuyahoga County, releasing 44 million pounds of air pollution in 2006 
•  Mittal Steel admitted to the Ohio EPA that it dumped 3.1 million pounds more pollution into the air in 2006 than it did in 2005 (Source: 2005 and 2006 Title V Emissions Fee Reports) 
•   Neighbors experience metal flakes and soot covering cars and homes, nauseating odors including strong sulfur smells, loud noises, visible orange and yellow clouds coming from the stacks, and trucks carrying hot coke down residential streets.
•  Ongoing campaign
•   Rerouted trucks which were carrying hot coke down residential streets
Lanxess Plastics, Addyston
Chemical plant making plastic pellets

•  107 accidents in 2004 including three significant chemical releases
•  Regular emissions of acyrlontrile, butadiene, and styrene -- chemicals that can damage the heart, lungs, and the gastrointestinal and nervous systems or cause cause cancer-
•   Plant directly across from elementary school, many complaints from neighbors about odors and emissions
•  After company replaced plant management, commitment to invest $1 million to reduce butadiene emissions that go into the air
•  $1.5 million investment designed to reduce the number of accidents, commitment to call on outside experts to review procedures and performance 
•  New odor controls installed on wastewater treatment plant
•  Elementary school closed after air monitoring revealed cancer risks
Sunoco Oil Refinery, Oregon

•  18-25 million pounds of routine releases of toxic air pollutants each year 
•  120 chemical spills since 2000, including accidental releases of 102,000 pounds of sulfur dioxide since October 2002 
•   Oil and other chemicals into nearby creek over 100-year history of refinery
•  Commitment to invest over $100 million in new pollution control equipment to prevent sulfur dioxide emissions, with reductions estimated at over 75%
•  New programs to detect and prevent leaks of benzene and toxic chemicals
•  Sunoco withdrew subpoena requiring neighbors to release personal medical information to the company
Shelly Asphalt, Westerville
Asphalt manufacturer

•  Gaseous emissions of volatile organic chemicals and sulfur dioxide from the stack and fugitive emissions from open sources such as silos, storage tanks, and piles 
•  Offensive odors, air and water pollution, dust, and noise
•   Plant was operating despite major permit violations
•   Plant was next to another asphalt plant owned by Kokosing - combined, they made 800 tons of asphalt per day
•  $200,000 investment to improve their asphalt-making process, installed a new burner and vapor recovery system - did not eliminate odors
•  Shelly set up a joint venture with neighboring Kokosing Asphalt, resulting in Shelly moving their plant out of the area 
•  Kokosing is using better control equipment and has committed to working with neighbors
AK Steel, Middletown
Steel plant with coke oven and coating facilities 

•  Over 11 million pounds each year of particulate pollution, containing heavy metals, raining down on neighbors 
•   68 million pounds each year of air pollution, including - carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, volatile organic compounds, lead
•   PCBs contaminated nearby creek
•   After ousting the CEO, board committed $65 million to install air pollution control equipment
•   Air pollution control equipment will reduce dust, soot, metal flakes and particulate emissions at AK's three furnaces by 90-99%; AK is over halfway done installing hoods, vents, scrubbers and other devices; all changes to be made by May, 2006
•   AK constructed fence behind Amanda Elementary to prevent kids from entering Dick's creek
Universal Purifying Technologies, Columbus
Proposed tire-melting facility on site of old trash-burning power plant 

•  Unproven technology could have caused formation of dioxins
•   Hazardous air pollution from melting 8,000 tires an hour 24 hours per day
•   After a four-month organizing campaign by Ohio Citizen Action and Columbus area residents, the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio voted unanimously to deny the lease
Columbus Steel Drum, Gahanna
Hazardous waste drum refurbisher (5,000 drums/day)

•  Violations of air pollution permits with odors causing evacuations of businesses and schools
•   Waste discharges into creek 
•   Fires
•  Pollution control equipment, proper maintenance of furnace and other equipment, signed legally-binding odor abatement plan
•  Cleaned up drain ditches, fixed leaks on property
•   In June 2005, Columbus Steel Drum entered into a Consent Order with the State of Ohio, a lawsuit triggered by verified complaints from neighbors. The company will pay $500,000 for past violations; will set a timeline to repair reamaining problems
Brush Wellman, Elmore
Beryllium processing - world's largest producer of beryllium products 

•   720 pounds of toxic beryllium air pollution/ year 
•   Workers exposed to beryllium particles
•  Other industries processing beryllium unaware of hazards
•   Potential for use of beryllium at more sites
•  96% reduction in beryllium releases to air 
•   Worker respirators and skin protection to prevent exposure to beryllium and to prevent dust from leaving plant on clothing 
•   New safety guidelines for use of beryllium in dentistry; education for other beryllium customers 
•  Agreement with City of Lorain not to use beryllium at plant there
Morton International/ Rohm and Haas, Reading
Specialty chemicals for the PVC plastics industry 

•  88,000 pounds of chloromethane released into air each year 
•   "Dead fish," "rotten egg" smells
•  Diesel truck pollution
•  No plan for alerting neighbors in emergency
•  90% reduction in chloromethane emissions with $2 million investment
•   Reduced odors through 4-step ventilation and control system 
•  Prohibited after-hours truck idling
•  Worked with neighbors and local responders to upgrade and implement new emergency response equipment, warnings and procedures
Cincinnati Specialties, Cincinnati
Chemical plant producing saccharine, rust inhibitors, and specialty chemicals

•  Strong and noxious odors affecting a large region 
•  17 accidental chlorine releases in 9 years
•   Toxic methanol discharges to sewers
•  Eliminated methyl anthranilate odor 
•   Working on fugitive tolytriazole odors by instituting odor controls including hoods, covers, and ventilation changes
•   Built chlorine enclosure building to prevent accidents from rail cars containing chlorine on-site 
•  Improved and began running methanol recovery unit

During this time, we have also used a number of the techniques of good neighbor campaigns to assist additional local campaigns working to clean up or stop pollution, or to shut down dangerous facilities. These include opposition to expansion of the American Landfill in Stark County, the relocation of the River Valley Schools in Marion away from their location on a military waste dump, the clean-up of the Valleycrest Superfund site near Dayton, stopping the U.S. Army from treating VX nerve agent hydrolysate in Dayton, the campaign to close the WTI hazardous waste incinerator in East Liverpool, opposing the expansion of the Envirosafe landfill in Oregon, preventing U.S. Coking Group from building a coke plant in Oregon, the campaign to stop DuPont from producing hazardous Teflon chemicals, opposing the re-opening of the General Environmental Management hazardous waste facility and the campaign to prevent FirstEnergy from restarting the Davis-Besse nuclear power plant in Oak Harbor.