Joy Ezell and her fight against big company pollution

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Joy Towels Ezell will speak to Wedgewood area residents about their battle against contaminated landfills in their communities.
Photo courtesy of Gloria Horning.

Emily Doyle

Staff Writer

Joy Towels Ezell, an active environmentalist and founder of HOPE (Help Our Polluted Environment), inspired University of West Florida students at the Student Environmental Action Society (SEAS) meeting Wednesday afternoon.

Ezell was just 7 years old when the Fenholloway River near her home in Perry, Florida, was polluted by the Buckeye Technologies mill. Now, at 68, she has committed her life to making the earth a cleaner place. Ezell has collaborated with more than 50 environmental groups over the years, and in addition to HOPE, founded Friends of the Fenholloway River, and was one of the founders of TRUE (Taylor Residents United for the Environment).

Gloria Horning, a UWF communications professor and environmental activist, is a longtime friend of Ezell and arranged for her to come speak on campus. Horning said, “Joy was one of four people I focused on when I was looking for individuals in the South that were making changes in the environment surrounding their communities. She is a force to be reckoned with — with a touch of Southern hospitality.”

Ezell spoke about the initial motivation that began her environmental journey after her son died in an automobile accident in 1991. Her son Trey always asked her to make someone clean up the Fenholloway River so he and his cousins could play in it. The river served as her first big environmental project. She challenged the Buckeye mill to stop polluting the water and land around the river and organized activist groups to stand by her. She continues the work today in remembrance of her son.

From there, she went on to appear on CBS’ 60 Minutes, CNN’s award-winning features on pulp mill pollution: The Smell of Money, and What Price White Paper?

Ezell told of how big companies target rural and poor areas to place mills and companies that release hazardous toxins into the air. “It’s a really sad situation,” she said, “because people in these areas are poor, they think that they don’t have enough money to do anything about it.”

Connor Wagner, president of SEAS, said “Joy Ezell benefited SEAS by teaching many of the members how real some of these environmental problems affecting people are.”

Though the Fenholloway River is just a mere 250 miles from UWF, that does not mean we are unaffected by pollution in our own backyard. Horning said, “Pollution is the number one battle for the health of any community – no matter where you live, we all have the right to play and work in a clean and safe environment.”

”I think we obtained the motivation and resources to start some enlightening projects and campaigns on campus,” said Wagner.

To find more information about SEAS or to get involved, visit the group’s website at http://uwf.edu/seas/.