about us

Making healthy people and healthy communities part of our energy future.

Every child in the U.S. is born with hundreds of toxic chemicals in their bodies. Industrial pollutants are the leading contributor to chemical illness, now rampant in the United States, and are causing alarming rates of cancer, asthma, skin infections and autoimmune disorders.

Exposure to pollutants and industrial chemicals is preventable - when communities are prepared.

Military aircraft drops an oil-dispersing chemical into the Gulf of Mexico May 5, 2010, as part of the Deepwater Horizon Response effort. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

The Alert Project: Our Story

Grand Isle Louisiana, April 20th 2012, Riki Ott, at a memorial for the eleven men who died when the Deep Water Horizon rig blew up on the two year anniversary of the BP oil spill. ©2012 Julie Dermansky
Grand Isle Louisiana, April 20th 2012, Riki Ott, at a memorial for the eleven men who died when the Deep Water Horizon rig blew up on the two year anniversary of the BP oil spill. ©2012 Julie Dermansky

Marine Toxicologist and former commercial fisherwoman Dr.Riki Ott witnessed first-hand the ecological destruction and social chaos from the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989, and became an “accidental activist” in its wake.

Ott was instrumental in supporting the community through the process of establishing the first citizen advisory council in Alaska post-spill to create citizen oversight of oil-chemical activities.

When the BP oil spill released millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, Ott brought her expertise to the frontline communities in the Gulf, where she spent one year exposing a public health crisis of chemical illness and helping to organize local communities against the threat. For the next ten years and with the help of locals, she continued to document and investigate chemical illnesses - particularly linked to oil- chemical dispersants - among the Gulf inhabitants.

In 2014, Ott founded The ALERT Project in anticipation of 2015 EPA rulemaking on dispersant use.

Our Work

We focus on some of the most common pollutants in our society – oil and oil-based chemicals – and communities most at-risk from daily exposures or exposures from industrial releases or spills.

By aiming to prevent the debilitating chronic diseases that plague those most at risk, our work contributes to building public awareness and passing stronger laws to protect everyone, everywhere, from toxic oil-chemical exposures.

Military aircraft drops an oil-dispersing chemical into the Gulf of Mexico May 5, 2010, as part of the Deepwater Horizon Response effort. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

Our Strategies

Trainings - Boots on the Ground

We strengthen environmental justice leadership by working collaboratively to reduce toxic exposures from oil-chemical activities in frontline communities. Our trainings bring accessible science on the health risks and symptoms of oil-chemical pollutants and empower people to prepare for and respond to oil spills in their community to reduce toxic exposures.

Changing Law from the Ground Up

We build coalitions amongst native tribes, government, workers, fishermen, science and community groups to strengthen oil spill preparation and response policies for better protection of response workers, residents and visitors and we advocate stronger laws and rules to reduce and protect people, wildlife, and the environment from toxic exposures during oil spill response.

Science, Research & Public Education

We make science and medical research accessible to the people through our public talks, workshops, science-based educational materials, reports and media. We report on the latest oil-chemical explosions and spills to build public awareness of the health risks and ways to reduce those risks, and we debunk industry reports with hard facts and independent science.

Litigation with our Partners

We use litigation as a last resort to force policy change. Sometimes we have to call out government for its dereliction of duties and to ensure that laws are upheld, changed or enforced to reduce and protect people from oil-chemical exposures.

Impact Areas

Health and Science: Oil-chemical Exposures and Chemical Illnesses

We design science-based programs with people

who have first-hand experience dealing with illnesses from exposures to oil-chemical pollutants, with academic training in health fields, and who live in petrochemical producing regions or ones directly harmed by large oil spills or industrial disasters.

We make science accessible to help adults and youth

understand the connection between environmental health and human health. Our programs train people to recognize symptoms of chemical exposures and communicate with their health provider for proper diagnosis and treatment of chemical illnesses.

We create a peer-led process to engage people

in community-level work to identify solutions and take informed actions to improve their own health and wellbeing. Then, we take our science-based training programs where people need them the most - into at-risk communities around the world.

Environmental Justice: Tribes and Frontline Communities

We respond to invites from Tribes and communities where people believe they have been sickened by oil-chemical activities or might become sickened by proposed oil-chemical activities.

Before

Before oil and gas infrastructure development or inevitable disasters, we collaborate to strengthen campaigns and public comments to minimize health harm from dirty energy development and to advance clean energy solutions.

During

During oil spills or chemical plant disasters, we suggest ways that people might best protect themselves, their loved ones, workers, and their communities from exposures to the oil-chemical release and the disaster response, which can create its own suite of environmental and human health problems.

After

After disasters, we continue to work in and with communities to minimize long-term health harm and advocate science- and evidence-based solutions to better protect the health of workers and families.

Always, we support increased scientific literacy and capacity development to skill up Tribes and communities to organize, defend and make energy choices in their own backyards.

The Law: Oil Spill Preparation and Response Planning

Plan is 26 yrs old

The Environmental Protection Agency’s National Contingency Plan - our nation’s national emergency response plan for oil disasters - is 26 years old, and it relies on outdated science that still supports and encourages the use of toxic spill response products.

We need updates

With so much missing, inaccurate, or downright dangerous in the official plan(s), we collaborate with our partners to advocate changing attitudes, behaviors and laws to update the national and local plans with current science and evidence-based standards.

If necessary, we litigate

When the government fails to update and enforce laws, we litigate to force the policy changes needed to protect human and environmental health.

Where we work.

Wherever there are oil-gas activities, there are risks of toxic exposures.

Oil-chemical drilling and fracking, manufacturing, and transportation corridors for tar sands via pipelines or railways create high-risk regions across the country — threatening to affect soils, lakes, rivers, oceans and the health of communities that depend on them.

Our Projects Around the World

Issue:

Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska

Projects:

Between 1989 and 1997, we spearheaded a grassroots movement by forming the Alaska Oil Reform alliance, a coalition of commercial fishermen and environmental groups, and mobilizing thousands to campaign for oil reform, resulting in a series of oil reform laws and the 1990 Oil Pollution Act. Not stopping there, we continued to advocate for tighter oil policy through the community-led activism, such as the 1993 fishermen’s blockade of Valdez Narrows, and the foundation of  Alaska Forum for Environmental Responsibility

In March 2014 we conducted a 25th-year memorial tour of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, organized by communities in Alaska and Vancouver, BC reflecting on improvements and unfinished business as a call to action for citizen advisory councils and more.

Our Accomplishments

Since 1989, we have been fighting for oil policy reform and mobilizing community voices in areas impacted by oil-gas activities across the country.

Trained 5,000+ people with 8 regional tours
On the ground at three major oil spills
10 yrs of investigative research in the Gulf
Filed two major lawsuits
Contributed to Oil Pollution Act of 1990

Our Team

Dr. Riki Ott, PhD

Founder & Director

Riki@AlertProject.org

Riki-OttBW-200x300

Riki Ott, PhD, is a marine toxicologist and former commercial fisherma’m who experienced the trauma and devastation of the Exxon Valdez oil spill firsthand. This became a vehicle for personal growth and her work in front-line communities to enhance public awareness of the enormous socio-economic costs of our oil dependency.

Ott blogs for Huffington Post, has written several books on socio-economic impacts of oil disasters, and appeared in award-winning documentaries on the nation’s largest maritime oil disasters ('Black Wave' and 'Dirty Energy').

In 2010, Ott was runner up for Huffington Post’s Game Changer in the Environment award for her volunteer work in Gulf coast communities after the BP disaster. In 2015, she received the Grace Lee Boggs Award from the Make It Safe Coalition for her work empowering people to have a voice in energy choices in their own backyard.

Ott directs two projects for the Earth Island Institute: UltimateCivics.org towards a healthy democracy; and AlertProject.org towards a healthy energy future.

Ott earned her doctorate in 1985 from the University of Washington School of Fisheries with an emphasis on the effects of heavy metals on benthic invertebrates. She earned her Masters of Science from the University of South Carolina, SC, Baruch Institute in marine biology with emphasis on effects of oil on zooplankton.

emily

Emily L. Harris

Health and Science Advisor

Sarah profile photo

Sarah Mitts

Communications and Outreach

TheAlertTeam@gmail.com

Saskia Hatvany

Saskia Hatvany

Creative Media and Communications

SaskiaHatvany@gmail.com

Our Allies

National Tribal Emergency
Management Council

Alaska Community Action on Toxics

Alaska Inter-Tribal Coalition

Prince William Sound Regional
Citizens’ Advisory Council

Center for Biological Diversity

UC Berkeley Law School
(Berkeley, CA)

Earth Island Institute
(Berkeley, CA)

Government Accountability Project

SE Environmental Task Force
(Chicago, IL)

Breakfree Midwest
Response Network

Dunelands Environmental
Justice Alliance

Alliance for the Great Lakes

Southeast Side Coalition
to Ban Petcoke
(Chicago, IL)

350 Indiana

350 Kishwaukee
(DeKalb, Illinois)

Texas Environmental Justice
Advocacy Services

Achieving Community
Tasks Successfully

(Pleasantville, TX)

Arkansas Environmental
Justice Network
(Conway, AR)

Mobile Environmental Justice
Action Coalition

(Mobile, AL)

NAACP Mobile County Branch #5044
(Mobile, AL)

Sierra Club Delta Chapter,
Acadian Group
(Lafayette, LA)

South Bay Communities Alliance
(Coden, AL)

Steps Coalition
(Biloxi, MS)

Apalachicola Riverkeepers
(Florida)

Healthy Gulf

Louisiana Shrimpers Association

Vietnamese Boat People – SOS