By Michael Blanche
“It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver,” said Mahatma Gandhi, who recognized the cost of industrialization and human consumption.
As a county and society, we turn a blind eye to the destruction and desolation created in our collective pursuit of profits and waste provision.
Economists have a word to describe this phenomenon: externalities, which basically means, it’s someone else’s problem, let them deal with it.
Unfortunately, the city of Chester and our neighbors that live there have been the recipients of our externalities for far too long.
The once proud and prosperous city has become the public toilet where Delaware County, Philadelphia and even New York City flush tons of waste, literally.
For the people of Chester to bear the burden of 3,500 tons of trash being burned into their air every day is unacceptable and deplorable. Especially considering the city covers an area of less than 5 square miles and has a population of around 42,000.
John Linder, former Mayor of Chester and councilman, lifelong resident of the city and current DCCC professor, says that the tax revenue brought in by these industries is vital to pay the city’s expansive police force, volunteer fire station, and administrative officials. Linder cited the city’s budget as being “50 million dollars per year.”
In the past, members of the Environmental Justice Network have fought against companies, like Koach Industries and Covanta, who signed a contract with New
York City in 2014 to accept thousands of tons of solid waste that is burned for energy at their Chester incinerator.
Exposing corporate greed and holding polluters accountable for the destruction of the environment has been the hallmark of the grass roots organization.
“In 2008 we were able to stop the world’s largest tire incinerator from being built in Chester,” said Mike Ewall, the founder and director of the EJN.
Among other victories, Ewall and the EJN have been on the front lines fighting fracking, pipeline, and incinerator construction across the state and country.
But the EJN has not been active in Chester lately.
Ewall said that Chester’s poor reputation of high crime hasn’t helped, which could be why more environmental organizations have not been on the front lines with the citizens fighting for clean air and water.
Unfortunately, according to the EJN, Chester residents are three times more likely to have asthma than other residents in Delaware County.
The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Report of 2010 said the number of people with asthma nationally was more than 23 million Americans. In Pennsylvania, the rate is higher than the national average, with Chester and Delaware County leading the way.
Perhaps this is because industries like Covanta and specifically their waste-to- energy incinerator create the second most air pollutants in the county, just behind Philadelphia International airport.
Waste-to-energy is touted by Covanta as a “green energy,” but it is not sustainable to burn trash.
In fact, the EJN reports that waste-to- energy is worse for the environment than burning coal, releasing large amounts of CO2, dioxins, mercury and lead into the air. In addition, it is more expensive to manage waste this way and produce energy.
“There is a stench that hangs in the air of the Industrial Highway, and it smells like money.”
Worsening the situation is the fact that these industrial companies don’t seem to provide jobs for the people of Chester. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has Chester’s unemployment rate at 7.8 percent as of April 2015, which is much higher than the county averages of 4.4 percent.
“These companies are not big enough to employ the entire city,” said Linder. “But they can do a much better job reinvesting into the community.”
According to Ewall, the celebrated and publicized PPL Park, which hosts the Philadelphia Union, is built on a site that is contaminated with toxic waste. Even worse, Ewall added, “the stadium isn’t even named after the city it is built in.”
Chester has a storied past. Throughout the Civil War era until World War II, manufacturing jobs were abundant and people
moved to the city with hopes of a better future. When those wars ended, jobs became scarce and overseas competition crippled Chester’s economy.
Kaya Benton, an 18 year-old Chester resident, hopes to attend DCCC in the fall of 2016.
“We didn’t have any legal way to stop the trash train from New York, so the company was allowed to bring in tons of trash to burn,” Benton said.
Linder attests that the rail delivery system is better for the city because they pollute more and waste constantly falls out of the trucks.
What Benton says is how many people feel: helpless.
People that are in positions of corporate power often choose profit over living, breathing people, ignoring the impact of externalities. Even when the people of Chester took lawful measures to prevent their air from being further polluted, they couldn’t stop further expansion of the Covanta incinerator facility in 2014.
There is a stench that hangs in the air of the Industrial Highway, and it smells like money.
The EJN is made up of caring citizens much like yourself.
The organization is counting victories for people and communities across the country. The time has come to help our neighbors clean up our mess.
To get involved and informed visit ejnet. org or energyjustice.net.