A Champion in her own community:
Monica’s Story


Pregnancy nightmares: they’re “a thing” guidebooks and obstetricians don’t often discuss. Yet for Monica Christofili of Newmarket, where CELDF began assisting community members to advance Community Rights in the summer of 2017, her sleeping and waking hours were haunted by worries of how to protect her children from chemicals permeating the soil and water where she lives.

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“The CDC confirmed this summer what the state has known for two years: New Hampshire has the nation’s highest rate of pediatric cancer,” she says. “A year ago, as a parent, I was worried about how to address our statewide problem with persistent synthetic chemicals that don’t leave the environment or our bodies. But I’ve evolved from concerned parent to community rights activist. Our children are being poisoned and dying, and we must go beyond setting standards and reductions of allowable harm, and instead wholly prevent future contamination by disallowing it.”

The CDC report, released in July, says New Hampshire has a pediatric cancer rate of nearly 206 cases per million children. That includes the clusters of rare rhabdomyosarcoma (RBS) and very rare pleuropulmonary blastoma (PPS) that have been officially confirmed in the state’s Seacoast region.

This summer, during her seventh month of pregnancy, Christofili introduced a rights-based ordinance – the Newmarket Freedom from Chemical Trespass RBO – to the town council for their consideration. The ordinance was drafted in partnership with CELDF.

“It’s an ordinance that would protect Newmarket’s people, watershed, the Lamprey River, and the Great Bay Estuary,” she said during the August presentation. “It comes down to townspeople organizing to collectively exercise our inherent and inalienable right to clean water, without which we cannot survive.”

It comes down to townspeople organizing to collectively exercise our inherent and inalienable right to clean water, without which we cannot survive.
- Monica Christofili, Newmarket, NH, Champion

Similar community rights ordinances have been voted into local law by nearby towns, such as Nottingham and Barrington.

Newmarket is located where the Lamprey River flows into the Great Bay of New Hampshire’s Seacoast region. It’s part of the larger ecosystem now suffering from contaminants dumped at two regional Superfund sites – Coakley Landfill and the former Pease Air Force Base. Both of those, with their high readings of PFCs and PFAS (manmade, unnaturally-occurring perfluorinated chemicals) are widely believed to be contributing factors to the high rates of pediatric cancers. And while the U.S. Geological Survey and the EPA have determined that the bedrock beneath both these sites is porous, allowing the chemicals to percolate down and through the groundwater the region draws from for drinking water, New Hampshire director of Public Health Services Lisa Morris insisted in March this year, “No connection has been identified between the Seacoast pediatric cancer clusters and an environmental exposure, including the Coakley landfill.”

Meanwhile, a variety of new “economic development” projects have been proposed for the area, further stoking fears for the health and safety of residents and their children.

“New threats loom to the estuary and Newmarket’s Lamprey River watershed,” Christofili explains. “Pinard Waste Management hopes to transition its Raymond recycling transfer station — approved on the Lamprey near a flood zone — into a solid waste transfer station. Secondly, Liberty Utilities has planned its Granite Bridge Pipeline project to twice cross the Lamprey in Raymond. Finally, Eversource’s Seacoast Reliability Project will drill through Little Bay to create a power passage with towering transmission poles alongside the estuary. That drilling would stir up hundreds of years of toxic industry run-off that has settled and been contained in the bay’s sediment.”

As she asked the Newmarket town council to consider the RBO this past August, Christofili instinctively made a gesture familiar to all pregnant women, albeit one that emphasized her purpose and her words. She spread her hand protectively over the swell of her baby bump.

“We believe that prevention is preferable to clean-up. We could fight unsustainable corporate pollution through the regulatory system, but then we’d merely be regulating the harm. We’d still be getting some of the harm. We don’t want any of the harm.”

Monica Christofili, Community Rights Champion in Newmarket, and her newborn baby Wren.

“Some people might say ‘Oh, you’re just a NIMBY. You’re saying you don’t want it in your backyard – not in my backyard. Put it somewhere else.’ We’re saying we don’t want contamination in anybody’s backyard. We want business to come to towns in and around the Great Bay area. But we do not want any community offered as a sacrifice zone to any of these businesses.”

In October, Newmarket’s town council held another public hearing on the RBO in which they heard anticipated concerns from opponents, the Town’s attorney, and the Town’s Administrator. Expressed concerns were focused on the interests of the Town’s fiscal responsibilities rather than the health, safety, and welfare of Newmarket’s future generations.

Also in October, Monica Christofili gave birth to a healthy 9-pound, 3-ounce baby girl named Wren.

And as Monica holds her family close in a circle of love, warmth and protection during this holiday season, she awaits the December town council meeting, and its recommendation on the fate of this RBO. Will they say no, and continue the worries that filled her pregnancy nightmares? Or will they say yes, agreeing that they, too, don’t want any harm?

Monica and other community members are ready to continue advancing Community Rights and Rights of Nature, regardless of town council. CELDF is standing with them.

Stay tuned next week for our focus on the Pacific Northwest, beginning with A Pod in Peril and our work to advance Rights of Nature for the Salish Sea.

Monica Christofili is a champion for Community Rights. You can help support her and others like her working to reclaim local democracy, recognize inalienable rights to clean air and water, and be a CELDF Champion, too.

Here’s what your help can do in 2019:

  • $25 covers postage for 100 Common Sense newspapers.
  • $50 ensures a community member can attend a Community Rights workshop, teaching the tools needed to confront corporate control and state interference on a powerful single front: people’s and nature’s inalienable rights.
  • $100 covers travel expenses for our community organizer to speak at an event educating residents on Community Rights.
  • $250 allows us to print and distribute informational handouts on Community Rights and Rights of Nature as tools to protect local communities.
  • $500 allows us to provide 10 scholarships to community members to attend a Community Rights workshop.
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Featured image: echos by Keirsten Marie, Flickr Creative Commons