Race, Class and Environmental Quality in the City of Chester

President Clinton has defined environmental injustice as “disproportionate, adverse effects on human health and the environment in minority and low-income communities.” By any definition, Chester is a glaring example of environmental injustice.

Chester residents have been subjected to excessive levels of air pollution, odors, noise, truck traffic, diesel fumes, and other environmental assaults. At the same time, many Chester residents suffer from poor health, leaving them more vulnerable to the effects of environmental pollution.

In recent years, Chester has become a target for the waste disposal industry. Beginning with the Westinghouse incinerator, which Delaware County located in its most densely populated community, with the highest poverty rate and largest minority population, Chester has attracted an increasing number of proposals
to construct waste processing facilities.

Thermal Pure Systems received a permit for the largest infectious waste facility in the state. The plant began operation last fall, and its permit would allow it to handle more than five times the total amount of infectious waste generated in the state.

Soil Remediation Systems has applied for a permit to build a facility to process contaminated soil. Westinghouse has applied for a permit which would allow it to burn residual waste from industrial plants, in addition to ordinary municipal waste.

Chester residents have experienced increasing problems from these and other sources, including the DELCORA sewage plant and sludge incinerator. In response, neighbors organized Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living.

In the last year, Chester Residents has placed the issue of environmental justice on the public agenda. Chester Residents has brought citizen lawsuits against the state for improperly permitting the Thermal Pure facility, and against DELCORA for frequent malodors. Chester Residents also got the City to amend its zoning
ordinance to restrict the siting of waste processing facilities.

The EPA has begun a study of the cumulative effect of environmental
pollution on Chester residents.

Environmental problems in Chester affect everyone, whether we are long-time residents of the West End, or attend Widener College for a few years. We all need to work together to improve the quality of life in Chester.