Nearly two years ago, Pauline M. Ewald was fired as director of Virginia's Superfund hazardous waste cleanup program after she complained about problems at the state Department of Hazardous Waste Management, where she worked.
Ewald, who went to work for the state in 1984, said she was dismissed because she raised questions about the slow pace of toxic waste cleanup and other issues. State officials declined to say why she was fired and pointed out that the U.S. Department of Labor rejected her grievance of her dismissal, but acknowledged that some waste cleanups had taken longer than they would have liked.
Ewald is appealing the Labor Department ruling in federal court with the help of the Government Accountability Project, a private group that takes on whistle-blower cases.
Last week, she won a contest of another sort: A $10,000 award from the Cavallo Foundation and the Fund for Constitutional Government designed to honor whistle-blowers in business and government.
Ewald and four others were honored at a Capitol Hill ceremony, and heard themselves praised by Sen. Bill Bradley (D-N.J.) as those who responded to "the higher calling of purpose" in their lives, "at some real personal risk."
Michael Cavallo, a Cambridge, Mass., money manager who established the foundation, said Ewald was honored for her "refusal to knuckle down and let matters slowly wind down."
Ewald said the problem with slow environmental compliance is nationwide, and she thanked her family and other supporters "with old-fashioned values" for backing her.
"I've been very fortunate as a whistle-blower," she said.
Ewald, 31, was unemployed for several months, went to work for a chemical company for almost a year, then struck out on her own, forming a consulting company in Richmond six months ago with four other former state employees who had worked with her. It is running in the black, she said, and she will use her prize money to buy a computer system for the firm, the Environmental Compliance Organization.