Laid to Waste: A Chester Neighborhood Fights for its Future


“Laid to Waste” is a 52 minute documentary which examines the impact of a group of waste processing facilities on the Chester, PA neighborhood in which they are located.

Residents have questioned the repeated selection of their neighborhood as a destination for trash and infectious waste. Slowly, they have uncovered the forces that have placed the facilities in their community. The trail leads through a web of powerful political forces and into a controversy surrounding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

“Laid to Waste” tells the story through the voices of residents, local leaders, politicians, plant representatives, and environmental officials.

Since its completion in April 1996, “Laid to Waste” has been broadcast on Philadelphia’s WHYY TV-12, WYBE TV-35, DUTV Cable 54, and on Free Speech TV. “Laid to Waste” won a Silver Apple Award from the National Educational Media Network and won third prize at the World Population Film and Video Festival. It is currently being shown at colleges, universities and law schools throughout the country.

“Laid to Waste” was produced independently by Robert Bahar and George McCollough. Associate producers were Deborah Rudman and Nancy Updike.

Support for this program was provided by the Philadelphia Independent Film/Video Association Subsidy Program, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Drexel University Television (DUTV Cable 54), the Drexel University Honors Program, and the New Liberty Productions Subsidy Grant Program.

The Story – Overview

Zulene Mayfield lives next door to the largest trash incinerator in the state (7th largest in the nation) and a few doors away from a plant that can process 288 tons of infectious medical waste per day. The county’s sewage treatment plant sits near her neighbors’ homes, a block away. A fourth plant, which will process petroleum-contaminated soil, is planned to join the three facilities already located in the Chester, PA neighborhood known as the West End.

Daily, trucks from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and as far away as Virginia roll past the homes on 2nd street in Chester, delivering thousands of tons of waste. Residents believe that their lives are being disrupted and that the air that they breathe is being polluted. A grassroots organization called “Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living” (CRCQL) has taken an active role in opposing the facilities and has endeavored to determine the plants’ impact on the community. The waste processing facilities argue that they are safe neighbors and that they bring much needed jobs to the Chester neighborhood.

“Laid to Waste” is the story of a community dealing with the issue of environmental injustice. The residents slowly work towards a goal: to discover and confront the forces which have chosen their community for such facilities. Though CRCQL receives threats and their office is vandalized, the group continues to protest and to formally challenge the waste industry. A controversy surrounding an obscure legal maneuver used by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court draws state-wide attention to their situation, and ultimately brings the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee to Chester’s West End.

“Laid to Waste” introduces the viewer to the residents who live a few hundred feet from the facilities. It includes interviews with Zulene Mayfield (Chairperson, Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living), Peter Kostmayer, (Former EPA Region III Administrator), State Senator Jeffrey Piccola (Former Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee), State Representative Thaddeus Kirkland, Leroy H. Carter (Manager, Community Relations, Delaware County Resource Recovery Facility), Patrick Andersen (S.E. Pennsylvania Section Chief, Office of the Superfund, EPA), Attorney Jerome Balter, and many other community leaders and residents.

View it on YouTube, or to order a copy of Laid to Waste, please contact:

Berkeley Media LLC
Saul Zaentz Media Center
2600 Tenth Street, Suite 626
Berkeley, CA 94710
Phone: 510-486-9900
Fax: 510-486-9944

Note that there is a special link on the website in order to request a discount, for example for activists, community organizations, church groups, etc.

To contact the producers:

Robert Bahar