Watford, at 20, is the youngest of this year’s six recipients — who hail from Slovakia,
Cambodia, Tanzania, Puerto Rico and Peru — she’s the third-youngest honoree in the
history of the prize.
Towson University junior Destiny Watford won one of the world’s most prestigious environmental awards – the Goldman Environmental
Prize – for her community leadership in derailing plans to build a trash incinerator
in Curtis Bay, Maryland.
Baltimore is one of the nation’s worst air pollutors, and Watford’s neighborhood is
its dirtiest community. As Darryl Fears notes in his Washington Post article, a 2013 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that 113 people per 100,000
Maryland residents — higher than in any other state — die as a result of emissions
from car and truck traffic, trains and ships, commercial heating systems and industrial
smokestacks. And Curtis Bay is the epicenter.
Watford and her classmates were concerned more about the air. They formed an advocacy
group called Free Your Voice and studied the history of industry and pollution in
Curtis Bay, as well as in the nearby Brooklyn and Hawkins Point neighborhoods. They
began knocking on doors, expanding their network to hundreds of residents who circulated
petitions that resulted in thousands of signatures. Their rallying cry: “Clear air
is a human right.”
Her persistence in fighting the school board, the Public Service Commission, Energy
Answers International – the company planning to build the incinerator, and Maryland
Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles was rewarded when the plans for the plant were
Grumbles called Watford “a talented, resourceful and passionate young advocate with great potential to make
a difference in the lives of those around her.”
She is now leading an effort to turn half of the proposed construction site into a community-owned
solar panel farm. The project would provide energy to schools and businesses just
as the incinerator would have — but without the same health risks.
Watford was scheduled to receive her award Monday night, April 18, in a ceremony at
the San Francisco, CA, Opera House.