Health advocate receives award

In the ninth-grade science lab, Mary Lamielle recalls becoming seriously ill while she dissected earthworms. She said something just didn’t feel right.

By 1979, Lamielle realized her illness was a result of exposure to everyday community and household items. Since then, Lamielle has continued to endure life as a person with chemical sensitivities.

Things many people take for granted, such as fabric, paper, books, food, perfume, tobacco and pesticides, have made life more challenging over the years for Lamielle.

After being homebound for a number of years, Lamielle decided to do something to advocate on behalf of the population locally and nationally that experiences mild to severe chemical sensitivity.

She started the National Center for Environmental Health Strategies in Voorhees, which promotes awareness and strives to make every environment healthier for all people.

“It’s about protecting public health and improving the quality of life for people who are sick from chemicals,” Lamielle said.

She said about one-third of people living in the United States react mildly to chemical exposures. About 11 to 16 percent of the population is unusually sensitive to environmental exposures and 4 to 6 percent became chronically ill or disabled from everyday chemical interaction, she added.

“There are a significant number of people who are overwhelmed. They can’t work, they can’t go to church or see friends,” Lamielle said.

Over the past three decades, Lamielle has advocated for her peers both locally and nationally. She has served on federal and state committees, including the CDC National Conversation on Public Health and Chemical Exposures.

Lamielle is also a member of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences’ Public Interest Partners and HUD’s Disability Task Force.

Locally, she helped a diesel truck noise ordinance move forward in Voorhees, as well as an integrated pest management program. At the state level, she’s worked to establish an integrated pest management program in all schools.

Last week, the Camden County Board of Chosen Freeholders awarded Lamielle for her efforts.

Fourteen county residents in total were honored with the 2012 County Freedom Medal honoring the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The award was created in 2001 and honors civic and community leaders.

“This was a very special year for the freedom medal because it marks the 10th anniversary of presenting these awards,” said Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli Jr. “I am constantly amazed and humbled by the people who don’t seek the spotlight, but serve their fellow residents so well and so selflessly.”

Lamielle has been honored in other ways, but said she was proud to receive an award from her community. She received the 2011 New Jersey Governor’s Jefferson Award for Public Service, the PSE&G Environmental Stewardship Award and the 2010 U.S. EPA Region 2 Environmental Award, the highest civilian award from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“I’m passionate for what needs to be done to help people who are sick,” Lamielle said. “Those impacted — I’m being a champion for their civil rights. We’re rectifying the wrongs of those orphaned by society who are so very sick.”