Environ Mental Racism in Action

Population of Chester, a city in Delaware County, Pennsylvania: 41, 856
Percentage of Chester population that is Black: ~65%.
Percentage of Blacks in the neighborhood of the waste treatment plants: ~74%

White population of Delaware County population as a whole: >86%
Percentage of total population of Delaware County that lives in Chester: 7.5%
Chester's percentage of total County waste-processing plants: >60%

Amount of waste processed in Chester's West End neighborhood each year: 1.8 million tons, in 7 plants (5 with permits granted by the State of Pennsylvania since 1987)

Number of waste-treatment plants elsewhere in the County, in majority White census districts: 3, restricted by law to processing no more than 878,250 tons of waste

Number of majority White census districts with more than one waste-treatment plant: 0

Other waste-treatment plants in Chester: a million-ton-a-year trash incinerator, three waste processing firms, an infectious waste sterilization plant, and a county sewage plant.

June 1995: the State of Pennsylvania issues permits for the 8th waste facility to be placed in Chester and nearby Chester township. The Permit is to Soil Remediation systems, to purify soil by burning petroleum contaminants out of it. [not yet in operation; the company's right to build and operate is being disputed in court]

May 1996: Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living file a civil rights lawsuit in U.S. District Courty, charging James M. Seif and Carol R. Collier of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection with environmental racism‹the first such civil rights suit of its kind in the nation.

"Zulene Mayfield, chairwoman of [Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living,] said that since 1992, the group has fought unsuccessfully to put a halt to the onslought of waste facilities locating in Chester.

"'We have continually told the state we do not need these types of facilities here ... and told them why,' said Mayfield, adding the DEP [Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection] does not consider the number of existing facilities nor the racial make-up of a community during the permitting process. 'Our children will be robbed of their future if they are continuously exposed to ... these types of facilities.'"

According to Jerome Balter of the Public Interest Law Center of Philadelphia, which is representing Mayfield's group, "'the mortality rate in Chester is 1.5 times higher than that of the rest of Delaware County, the infant mortality rate the highest in the state, double that of the county, as is the number of low-birth weight babies'" [direct quotations from deProphetis; see source below].

Cindy deProphetis, "Waste Racism Suit Filed," Delaware County Daily Times, May 29 1996, p. 3.

Dan Hardy, "Bias Alleged in Placement of Waste Sites," Philadelphia Inquirer May 29 1996, pp. B1, B4.

Dan Hardy, "Lights, camera, action: Video created to aid pollution battle." Philadelphia Inquirer, June 6 1996, B1, B5.

From Dan Hardy, "Lights, camera, action: Video created to aid pollution battle." Philadelphia Inquirer, June 6 1996, B1, B5:

Robert Bahar, an engineering student at Swarthmore, has helped make a video documentary entitled Laid to Waste, which uses interviews with Chester residents and others to depict "the battle against waste-processing industries in Chester from the point of view of residents in the city's West End. The video has already aired several times on Drexel Univeristy TV; last week, it appeared on Allentown's Public Broadcasting System affiliate, which is seen throughout the Philadelphia area."

"... Laid to Waste also shows a tense confrontation that ensued when demonstrators marched into the Philadelphia office of Russell, Rea & Zappala, the Pittsburgh-based investment banking firm that has ties to several of the waste-processing firms in the West End [of Chester]. The protest ended after the Philadelphia branch employees promised to transmit a statement from the demonstators to the Pttsburgh headquarters."

"The producers said this week that Laid to Waste has been submitted for circulation to Free Speech TV, a national network of about 60 stations. "'A lot of communities have the same kind of environmental problems that Chester has....'"

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