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EPA Recognizes New Hampshire Citizens with Regional Environmental Award

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John Senn (
(617) 918-1019

BOSTON – The US Environmental Protection Agency today recognized six New Hampshire individuals for their work to protect New England's environment. They were among 24 recipients across New England honored by EPA's New England office at the 2020 Environmental Merit Awards virtual ceremony.

EPA New England's annual Environmental Merit Awards are given to community leaders, scientists, government officials, business leaders, schools, and students who represent different approaches, but a common commitment to environmental protection.

"Initiatives led by individuals and groups like this years' awardees have driven progress toward clean water and clean air, built community support for revitalization investments, sparked environmental innovation, reduced waste, and protected the public from exposure to harmful substances," said EPA New England Administrator Dennis Deziel. "EPA is always proud to recognize the honorees' dedication, commitment to partnerships, and passion for success that has led to measurable change." Deziel noted that this year's award celebration – an online video presentation - by necessity differed from past years, but reaffirmed the awards ceremony is more important than ever.

Among those recognized in New Hampshire, Sarah Pillsbury and Barbara McMillan, both of Concord, were given lifetime achievement awards for a career or life devoted to protecting the New England environment.

"I want to congratulate all of this year's EPA Merit Award recipients for their dedication to protecting the environment and public health in New Hampshire. In particular, I am pleased to see NH Department of Environmental Services staff, Cathy Beahm, Barbara McMillan and Sarah Pillsbury acknowledged for their tireless efforts to protect and improve our water, air and land in the granite state," said Bob Scott, NHDES Commissioner.

In addition, Ronald Poltak was given the Ira Leighton "In Service to States" annual award for environmental achievement that has had an outsized impact in the state, the region, and nationally. The award recognized Poltak for his work at the helm of the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission for 37 years until his retirement in 2017.

Poltak, who was at the helm of the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission for 37 years until his retirement in 2017, entered public service in New Hampshire as an intern in the state planning department in 1968 when he was an undergraduate at the University of New Hampshire. He returned to the department following service in the Air Force, eventually becoming director of the planning office and advisor to governors on environmental issues. In 1979, Gov. Hugh Gallen appointed Ron to NEIWPCC's governing commission. He was hired as executive director in 1983. Under his leadership, NEIWPCC expanded its scope to protect surface water; treat wastewater; address non-point source pollution, mercury, and underground storage tanks; and expand training opportunities. During his tenure, Poltak built the commission into an indispensable vehicle for creative collaboration across states and disciplines, supporting clean water in every New England state and New York.

EPA New England each year also recognizes individuals and groups in the six New England states who are distinguished by their work to protect or improve the region's environment. The merit awards, given since 1970, honor individuals and groups who have shown ingenuity and commitment. The Environmental Merit Awards, given for work or actions done in the prior year, are awarded in the categories of individual; business (including professional organizations); local, state or federal government; and environmental, community, academia or nonprofit organization. Also, each year EPA presents lifetime achievement awards for individuals.

The 2020 Merit Award Winners from New Hampshire were:


Barbara McMillan
For 30 years, Barbara McMillan has been dedicated to educating communities and individuals to be better environmental stewards. In 1997 Barbara became recycling coordinator for the NH Department of Environmental Services and later became outreach coordinator for the department's Nonpoint Source Management Program, a position she held until 2018. During her career, Barbara provided leadership for many programs including marine debris, pet waste, septic systems, stormwater, turf management, watershed planning and water quality.

In 2012, Barbara was central in establishing the state's Soak Up the Rain program, which helps homeowners manage stormwater runoff. Her ability to inspire people to achieve a common goal was critical to the program's success. To this day, the state's stormwater coalitions rely on Barbara's knowledge and ability to work with EPA to find solutions for complying to municipal stormwater permits. New Hampshire's environmental department and the thousands of people with whom she worked are indebted to Barbara for her contributions to New Hampshire's environment.

Sarah Pillsbury
Pillsbury, who retired after 35 years with the NH Department of Environmental Services, has demonstrated a steadfast commitment to environmental and public health protection leading to measurable, lasting and sustained results. She began her career reviewing septic system designs and subdivision plans and soon became a manager of the Groundwater Protection Bureau and the Drinking Water Source Protection Section. In 2004, Pillsbury became administrator of the Drinking Water and Groundwater Bureau, where she managed the largest bureau at DES. Pillsbury empowered her staff to develop initiatives, improve programs, and strive to emulate her management style. She helped create strong programs for small systems operation and management, source water protection, land protection, water conservation, management of large groundwater withdrawals, emerging contaminants, and private wells.

During her career at DES, Pillsbury built and managed a drinking water program that serves as a model to other states, as reflected in her leadership roles in the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators, the Ground Water Protection Council, and the National Drinking Water Advisory Council. Throughout her career, Pillsbury showed a commitment to environmental and public health protection.


Catherine Beahm
Since the discovery four years ago of widespread PFAS contamination in groundwater and drinking water around Saint Gobain Performance Plastics in Merrimack, New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services' Catherine Beahm has led the state response to the facility's PFAS air emissions. She reviewed thousands of pages of company records to understand the impacts of the air deposition of PFAS to Merrimack, Litchfield, and Amherst. A 2019 state law authorized DES to regulate certain PFAS air emissions that contributed to groundwater contamination. An innovative approach, the statute required that the facility submit an application to DES to put in place the "best available control technology" for destruction of PFAS emissions and demonstrate that emissions would not further contribute to exceeding groundwater standards. Though the facility had largely eliminated certain PFAS from operations, Beahm worked with EPA to identify hundreds more PFAS compounds remaining in facility emissions. While many states waited until federal agencies could gather information, Beahm expanded her own knowledge, becoming a national authority on PFAS emissions control. She has been the driving force in the development and issuance of an historic air permit that allows Saint Gobain to continue operating while ensuring all known PFAS compounds are destroyed through advanced controls designed to prevent further groundwater contamination.

Annie Ropeik
Ropeik, one of the leading environmental journalists in New England, in 2019 did more than 200 stories for New Hampshire Public Radio on environmental and energy issues. Among these stories were more than 40 related to PFAS, an important environmental and public health issue in New Hampshire. Ropeik's thorough reporting provided updates on legislation, cleanup work and pubic advocacy. She also regularly filed stories on developments at Superfund sites across New Hampshire and filed numerous stories on clean water issues related to lead and arsenic in drinking water. Many of her stories focused on New Hampshire-specific energy issues, climate science and waste reduction. Her stories are always accurate and fair, and often include several points of view. With fewer reporters across the country focused almost solely on environmental topics, Ropeik's work is even more critical.

Michele Tremblay
At McQuesten Brook in Manchester, an 8‐year old girl holding a dead, native Eastern Brook Trout approached Tremblay. Six more healthy brook trout were found buried nearby in debris and sediment. This incited Tremblay to undertake the full restoration of the watershed and save a population of once‐thriving native fish. The unpaid president of the New Hampshire Rivers Council, Tremblay embarked on a mission to unite resources to save a population of trout in one of the state's most urbanized areas. In 2011, with no established watershed organization, a six‐inch deep pond known for its collection of shopping carts, tires, and muck, Tremblay led a crusade to restore McQuesten Brook and its watershed. The project involved removing four dams, eliminating a stream crossing and upgrading a second crossing. The McQuesten Brook now flows freely after years of neglect.

More information on EPA's Environmental Merit Awards, including photographs from the award ceremony: