Oak Parker Peggy McGrath is the sixth local environmental hero to be recognized by the Oak Park ClimateAction Committee, which educates consumers on climate change and other environmental issues of local interest.
Peggy is the founder and head of Go Green Oak Park, a 501c not-for-profit organization focused on reducing the effects of toxic chemicals in Oak Park and River Forest, the sister communities where her three children and eight grandchildren reside. The organization centers on educational experiences, legislative activism and passionate commitment to children and the sacred earth.
What was your inspiration for focusing on the anti-toxics movement?
When re-reading Rachel Carson’s landmark 1962 environmental work, Silent Spring, and then her other books and biography, I found her to be a woman of astounding grace and courage. Sadly, Silent Spring could have been written today! Being a grandmother of eight, it awakened a lasting personal concern over the health hazards of synthetic chemicals in the environment, and of their impact on our children’s health.
“Every once in a while in the history of mankind, a book has appeared which has substantially altered the course of history,” Senator Ernest Gruening, a Democrat from Alaska, told Carson at the time.
How did you first become an environmental activist?
As a young adult, I joined others in our Oak Park neighborhood in organizing recycling on our block. That was 40 years ago when we began bringing recyclables to the dumpster behind the Old Bishop Quarters building.
What is your most urgent concern regarding toxics in our food supply?
Pervasive chemical pesticides, ones still applied in our gardens and yards, that ultimately find their way into our waterways. Glyphosate, the active ingredient in the popular pesticide RoundUp, is additionally sprayed on genetically modified grain crops (GMOs) which — contrary to Monsanto’s claims — does not increase crop yields, but has an unfortunate side effect: antibiotic contamination of these crops and foods for animal/human consumption. It is also an endocrine disruptor, impacting the hormonal system, especially in growing children.
In April, Go Green Oak Park hosted a lecture at Trinity High School and Evanston Township High School by Dr. Thierry Vrain, a retired genetic engineer and soil biologist who had been research director at the Canadian Department of Agriculture. His lecture raised the alarm about the potential health hazards from human consumption of engineered foods that are contaminated by the glyphosate sprayed — not only on RoundUp-ready crops but on other crops as well.
Your next step as an activist on the toxics issue?
We are currently reaching out to multiple municipalities with a resolution we developed to regain local home rule control of toxic chemical regulation in Illinois. We need a large number of municipalities to encourage the general assembly to amend the pesticide law and stop the pre-emption of local control. See www.gogreenoakpark.org for more information.
What part has “healing” played in your life?
When I look back on my life, I see a thread of healing. First, as a registered nurse. Second, in a career as a therapist in emotional/spiritual healing. And presently, as an advocate for eco-justice in advancing the healing of this chemically compromised, but still sacred, Earth.
Peggy McGrath profile
Education: 1961 Trinity High School; BSN Nursing, Loyola University (1965); 2 Loyola master’s degrees in the 1980s in pastoral studies and pastoral counseling.
Licensed in marriage and family therapy; worked at Lutheran Family Services for 12 years prior to opening a private Oak Park practice (presently retired).
Member of First Tuesday, a group that assisted Oak Park’s diversity plans in the ’70s.
Member of the Greening Advisory Committee for the OP Park District (several years ago)
Worked with Green Community Connections on the first One Earth Film Festival (and other years as well)
As founder of Go Green Oak Park, was given a Green Award in 2015 by the Energy, Environmental Commission of Oak Park
Steward for the Grand Beach Marsh in Michigan in conjunction of Chikaming Open Lands
For 20 years, a member of the Democratic Party of Oak Park.
David Martin is a member of the Oak Park ClimateAction Committee.