1. The gas prices conversation we should be having
  2. Reclaiming Black land is challenging but not impossible
  3. Black clergy: Churches can sway views on climate crisis
  4. Can old Philadelphia refineries be cleaned up and restored?
  5. Here’s how Black Philadelphia can help in the environmental justice battle
  6. City Launches Environmental Justice Advisory Commission
  7. FIXING THE STRUGGLE SPACE
  8. SOLAR POLICIES ARE FALLING BEHIND – SO, HOW DO WE CATCH UP?
  9. IS PHILLY’S “TAP” WATER PROGRAM WORKING?
  10. Ian Harris
  11. Melissa Ostroff
  12. THE WATER BILLS ARE WAY TOO HIGH
  13. THE KEY TO APPROACHING FRONTLINE COMMUNITIES ON ALL THINGS GREEN
  14. ICYMI: Watch highlights, panels at ecoWURD’s 2021 Environmental Justice Summit
  15. BLACK MOTHERS NEED CLEANER & SAFER ENVIRONMENTS – IT’S A PUBLIC HEALTH IMPERATIVE
  16. USING DANCE TO SAVE A RIVER
  17. TRACKING PHILADELPHIA’S AIR QUALITY
  18. GETTING RELIGIOUS ON CLIMATE CRISIS
  19. WE NEED MORE BLACK PEOPLE IN AGRICULTURE
  20. WHEN THERE’S NO CLEAN ENVIRONMENT, WE HAVE NOTHING
  21. A PREMATURE END TO EVICTION MORATORIUMS
  22. THE LACK OF BELIEF IN CLIMATE CRISIS IS JUST AS MUCH A THREAT
  23. YOU CAN’T HAVE RACIAL JUSTICE WITHOUT FAIR HOUSING
  24. RUN OVER THE SYSTEMS: THE FUTURE OF ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM
  25. PENNSYLVANIA IS “WAY BEHIND” ON SOLAR. HOW DOES IT CATCH UP?
  26. Pandemic Relief For Black Farmers Still Is Not Enough
  27. A BLUEPRINT FOR THE NEXT URBANISM
  28. THAT ELECTRONIC & CLOTHING WASTE PILES UP. SO WHERE TO PUT IT?
  29. THE WOMB IS THE FIRST ENVIRONMENT
  30. A FRIDGE FOR EVERYONE WHO’S HUNGRY
  31. OLD SCHOOL FOSSIL FUEL ECONOMY VS. NEW SCHOOL CLEAN ENERGY ECONOMY
  32. ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE IS THE TOP SOCIAL JUSTICE PRIORITY
  33. IN 2020, DID “BIG GREEN” BECOME LESS WHITE?
  34. CLIMATE ACTION CAN POWER OUR RECOVERY
  35. IN PANDEMIC, AN HBCU DOES IT BETTER
  36. A DANGEROUS LACK OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE PROTECTIONS
  37. HOW FAST CAN A BIDEN PRESIDENCY MOVE ON CLIMATE ISSUES?
  38. CRAFTING A BLACK-DRIVEN CORONAVIRUS AND CLIMATE “STIMULUS” AGENDA
  39. Penn to donate $100 million to Philadelphia school district to help public school children
  40. BLACK ECOLOGIES IN TIDEWATER VIRGINIA
  41. WHAT IS “FROM THE SOURCE REPORTING?”
  42. LEADERSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
  43. THE ECOWURD SUMMIT LAUNCH
  44. National Geographic Virtual Photo Camp: Earth Stories Aimed to Elevate Indigenous Youth Voices
  45. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit 2020
  46. TOO MANY NATURAL GAS SPILLS
  47. GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK
  48. BLACK VOTERS ARE THE ECO-VOTERS CLIMATE ACTIVISTS ARE LOOKING FOR
  49. CANNABIS PROFIT & BLACK ECONOMY
  50. THE NATURE GAP
  51. BLACK PEOPLE NEED NATURE
  52. WHAT IS TREEPHILLY?
  53. IS AN OBSCURE ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE IN HARRISBURG DOING ENOUGH?
  54. AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTALISM’S RACIST ROOTS
  55. “THERE’S REALLY A LOT OF QUIET SUFFERING OUT THERE
  56. “WE NEED TO GET INTO THE SUPPLY CHAIN”
  57. “AN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW THAT GIVES YOU A VOICE”
  58. URBAN PLANNING AS A TOOL FOR WHITE SUPREMACY
  59. HEAT WAVES REMIND US CLIMATE CHANGE IS STILL HERE
  60. Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land
  61. IN PANDEMIC, MAKING SURE PEOPLE EAT & HOW HBCUs HELP
  62. WE’RE NOT DONE, YET – MORE ACCOUNTABILITY IS NEEDED AT THE PES REFINERY SITE
  63. COVID-19 IS LAYING WASTE TO RECYCLING PROGRAMS
  64. THE PHILADELPHIA HEALTH EQUITY GAPS THAT COVID-19 EXPOSED
  65. THE POWER OF NEW HERBALISM
  66. THERE’S NO RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
  67. ecoWURD Earth Day Summit
  68. ecoWURD Earth Day Summit 2020 Press Release
  69. Too Much Food At Farms, Too Little Food At Stores
  70. THE LINK BETWEEN AIR POLLUTION & COVID-19
  71. CORONAVIRUS REVEALS WHY ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE IS STILL THE CRITICAL ISSUE OF OUR TIME
  72. FROM KATRINA TO CORONAVIRUS, WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
  73. COVID-19 SHOWS A BIGGER IMPACT WHERE BLACK PEOPLE LIVE
  74. THE CORONAVIRUS CONVERSATION HAS GOT TO GET A LOT MORE INCLUSIVE THAN THIS
  75. MEDIA’S CLIMATE CHANGE COVERAGE KEEPS BLACK PEOPLE OUT OF IT
  76. “WE DON’T HAVE A CULTURE OF PREPAREDNESS”
  77. PHILADELPHIA HAS A FOOD ECONOMY
  78. HOW URBAN AGRICULTURE CAN IMPROVE FOOD SECURITY IN U.S. CITIES
  79. MAPPING THE LINK BETWEEN INCARCERATION & FOOD INSECURITY
  80. PHILLY’S JAILS ARE, LITERALLY, MAKING PEOPLE SICK
  81. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit 2019
  82. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit
  83. “We Can’t Breathe: Zulene Mayfield’s Lifelong War with Waste ‘Managers’”
  84. “Is The Black Press Reporting on Environmental Issues?” by David Love
  85. “The Dangerous Connection Between Climate Change & Food” an interview with Jacqueline Patterson and Adrienne Hollis
  86. “An Oil Refinery Explosion That Was Never Isolated” by Charles Ellison
  87. “Philly Should Be Going ‘Community Solar'” an interview w/ PA Rep. Donna Bullock
  88. “Is The Litter Index Enough?” an interview w/ Nic Esposito
  89. “How Sugarcane Fires in Florida Are Making Black People Sick” an interview w/ Frank Biden
  90. Philly Farm Social – Video and Pictures
  91. #PHILLYFARMSOCIAL GETS REAL IN THE FIELD
  92. THE LACK OF DIVERSE LEADERS IN THE GREEN SPACE Environmental Advocacy Organizations – especially the “Big Green” – Really Need More Black & Brown People in Senior Positions
  93. PLASTIC BAG BANS CAN BACKFIRE … WHEN YOU HAVE OTHER PLASTICS TO CHOOSE FROM
  94. WE REALLY NEED POLITICAL STRATEGISTS LEADING ON CLIMATE CHANGE – NOT ACADEMICS
  95. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS IN A MUCH MORE CLIMATIC WORLD
  96. A SMALL GERMANTOWN NON-PROFIT “TRADES FOR A DIFFERENCE”
  97. IS PHILLY BLAMING ITS TRASH & RECYCLING CRISIS ON BLACK PEOPLE?
  98. BUT WHAT DOES THE GREEN NEW DEAL MEAN FOR BLACK PEOPLE?
  99. HOW GREEN IS PHILLY’S “GREENWORKS” PLAN?
  100. The Future of Work in Philly’s Green Economy event recap #ecoWURD #phillyisgreen
  101. Bike-friendly cities should be designed for everyone, not just for wealthy white cyclists
  102. RENAMING “GENTRIFICATION”
  103. FOUR GOVERNORS, ONE URBAN WATERSHED IN NEED OF ACTION
  104. JUST HOW BAD IS THE AIR HURTING PHILLY’S BLACK FAMILIES?
  105. EcoWURD Presents:The Future of Work in Philly’s Green Economy
  106. IF YOU ARE LOW-INCOME OR HOMELESS, THE POLAR VORTEX IS LIKE A FORM OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
  107. NOT JUST FLINT: THE WATER CRISIS IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY
  108. DO THE TRAINS STOP RUNNING? THE SHUTDOWN’S IMPACT ON MASS TRANSIT
  109. BLACK WOMEN & THE TROUBLE WITH BABY POWDER
  110. A WHITE COLLAR CRIME VICTIMIZING NICETOWN
  111. IN NORTH CAROLINA, CLIMATE CHANGE & VOTER SUPPRESSION WORKED HAND-IN-HAND
  112. LOW-INCOME NEIGHBORHOODS WOULD GAIN THE MOST FROM GREEN ROOFS
  113. YOUR OWN HOOD: CLOSING THE GENERATIONAL GREEN DIVIDE IN BLACK PHILADELPHIA
  114. THE PRICE OF WATER: LITERAL & FIGURATIVE THIRST AT WORK
  115. THAT CLIMATE CHANGE REPORT TRUMP DIDN’T WANT YOU TO SEE? YEAH, WELL, IT’S THE LAW
  116. RACIAL & ETHNIC MINORITIES ARE MORE VULNERABLE TO WILDFIRES
  117. NO IFS, ANDS OR BUTTS Philly Has a Cigarette Butt Problem
  118. HOW SUSTAINABLE CAN PHILLY GET?
  119. USING AFROFUTURISM TO BUILD THE KIND OF WORLD YOU WANT
  120. UNCOVERING PHILLY’S HIDDEN TOXIC DANGERS …
  121. WILL THE ENVIRONMENT DRIVE VOTERS TO THE POLLS? (PART I)
  122. ARE PHILLY SCHOOLS READY FOR CLIMATE CHANGE?
  123. 🎧 SEPTA CREATES A GAS PROBLEM IN NORTH PHILLY
  124. 🎧 BREAKING THE GREEN RETAIL CEILING
  125. That’s Nasty: The Cost of Trash in Philly
  126. 🎧 How Can You Solarize Philly?
  127. 🎧 “The Environment Should Be an Active, Living Experience”
  128. Philly’s Lead Crisis Is Larger Than Flint’s
  129. Despite What You Heard, Black Millennials Do Care About the Environment
  130. Hurricanes Always Hurt Black Folks the Most
  131. Are You Going to Drink That?
  132. The Origins of ecoWURD
  133. We Seriously Need More Black Climate Disaster Films
  134. 🎧 Why Should Philly Care About a Pipeline?
  135. 🎧 Not Just Hotter Days Ahead… Costly Ones Too
  136. Philly’s Big and Dangerous Hot Mess
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
  1. The gas prices conversation we should be having
  2. Reclaiming Black land is challenging but not impossible
  3. Black clergy: Churches can sway views on climate crisis
  4. Can old Philadelphia refineries be cleaned up and restored?
  5. Here’s how Black Philadelphia can help in the environmental justice battle
  6. City Launches Environmental Justice Advisory Commission
  7. FIXING THE STRUGGLE SPACE
  8. SOLAR POLICIES ARE FALLING BEHIND – SO, HOW DO WE CATCH UP?
  9. IS PHILLY’S “TAP” WATER PROGRAM WORKING?
  10. Ian Harris
  11. Melissa Ostroff
  12. THE WATER BILLS ARE WAY TOO HIGH
  13. THE KEY TO APPROACHING FRONTLINE COMMUNITIES ON ALL THINGS GREEN
  14. ICYMI: Watch highlights, panels at ecoWURD’s 2021 Environmental Justice Summit
  15. BLACK MOTHERS NEED CLEANER & SAFER ENVIRONMENTS – IT’S A PUBLIC HEALTH IMPERATIVE
  16. USING DANCE TO SAVE A RIVER
  17. TRACKING PHILADELPHIA’S AIR QUALITY
  18. GETTING RELIGIOUS ON CLIMATE CRISIS
  19. WE NEED MORE BLACK PEOPLE IN AGRICULTURE
  20. WHEN THERE’S NO CLEAN ENVIRONMENT, WE HAVE NOTHING
  21. A PREMATURE END TO EVICTION MORATORIUMS
  22. THE LACK OF BELIEF IN CLIMATE CRISIS IS JUST AS MUCH A THREAT
  23. YOU CAN’T HAVE RACIAL JUSTICE WITHOUT FAIR HOUSING
  24. RUN OVER THE SYSTEMS: THE FUTURE OF ENVIRONMENTAL ACTIVISM
  25. PENNSYLVANIA IS “WAY BEHIND” ON SOLAR. HOW DOES IT CATCH UP?
  26. Pandemic Relief For Black Farmers Still Is Not Enough
  27. A BLUEPRINT FOR THE NEXT URBANISM
  28. THAT ELECTRONIC & CLOTHING WASTE PILES UP. SO WHERE TO PUT IT?
  29. THE WOMB IS THE FIRST ENVIRONMENT
  30. A FRIDGE FOR EVERYONE WHO’S HUNGRY
  31. OLD SCHOOL FOSSIL FUEL ECONOMY VS. NEW SCHOOL CLEAN ENERGY ECONOMY
  32. ENVIRONMENTAL INJUSTICE IS THE TOP SOCIAL JUSTICE PRIORITY
  33. IN 2020, DID “BIG GREEN” BECOME LESS WHITE?
  34. CLIMATE ACTION CAN POWER OUR RECOVERY
  35. IN PANDEMIC, AN HBCU DOES IT BETTER
  36. A DANGEROUS LACK OF INFECTIOUS DISEASE PROTECTIONS
  37. HOW FAST CAN A BIDEN PRESIDENCY MOVE ON CLIMATE ISSUES?
  38. CRAFTING A BLACK-DRIVEN CORONAVIRUS AND CLIMATE “STIMULUS” AGENDA
  39. Penn to donate $100 million to Philadelphia school district to help public school children
  40. BLACK ECOLOGIES IN TIDEWATER VIRGINIA
  41. WHAT IS “FROM THE SOURCE REPORTING?”
  42. LEADERSHIP IN ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE
  43. THE ECOWURD SUMMIT LAUNCH
  44. National Geographic Virtual Photo Camp: Earth Stories Aimed to Elevate Indigenous Youth Voices
  45. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit 2020
  46. TOO MANY NATURAL GAS SPILLS
  47. GREEN IS THE NEW BLACK
  48. BLACK VOTERS ARE THE ECO-VOTERS CLIMATE ACTIVISTS ARE LOOKING FOR
  49. CANNABIS PROFIT & BLACK ECONOMY
  50. THE NATURE GAP
  51. BLACK PEOPLE NEED NATURE
  52. WHAT IS TREEPHILLY?
  53. IS AN OBSCURE ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE IN HARRISBURG DOING ENOUGH?
  54. AMERICAN ENVIRONMENTALISM’S RACIST ROOTS
  55. “THERE’S REALLY A LOT OF QUIET SUFFERING OUT THERE
  56. “WE NEED TO GET INTO THE SUPPLY CHAIN”
  57. “AN ENVIRONMENTAL LAW THAT GIVES YOU A VOICE”
  58. URBAN PLANNING AS A TOOL FOR WHITE SUPREMACY
  59. HEAT WAVES REMIND US CLIMATE CHANGE IS STILL HERE
  60. Farming While Black: Soul Fire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land
  61. IN PANDEMIC, MAKING SURE PEOPLE EAT & HOW HBCUs HELP
  62. WE’RE NOT DONE, YET – MORE ACCOUNTABILITY IS NEEDED AT THE PES REFINERY SITE
  63. COVID-19 IS LAYING WASTE TO RECYCLING PROGRAMS
  64. THE PHILADELPHIA HEALTH EQUITY GAPS THAT COVID-19 EXPOSED
  65. THE POWER OF NEW HERBALISM
  66. THERE’S NO RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
  67. ecoWURD Earth Day Summit
  68. ecoWURD Earth Day Summit 2020 Press Release
  69. Too Much Food At Farms, Too Little Food At Stores
  70. THE LINK BETWEEN AIR POLLUTION & COVID-19
  71. CORONAVIRUS REVEALS WHY ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE IS STILL THE CRITICAL ISSUE OF OUR TIME
  72. FROM KATRINA TO CORONAVIRUS, WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED?
  73. COVID-19 SHOWS A BIGGER IMPACT WHERE BLACK PEOPLE LIVE
  74. THE CORONAVIRUS CONVERSATION HAS GOT TO GET A LOT MORE INCLUSIVE THAN THIS
  75. MEDIA’S CLIMATE CHANGE COVERAGE KEEPS BLACK PEOPLE OUT OF IT
  76. “WE DON’T HAVE A CULTURE OF PREPAREDNESS”
  77. PHILADELPHIA HAS A FOOD ECONOMY
  78. HOW URBAN AGRICULTURE CAN IMPROVE FOOD SECURITY IN U.S. CITIES
  79. MAPPING THE LINK BETWEEN INCARCERATION & FOOD INSECURITY
  80. PHILLY’S JAILS ARE, LITERALLY, MAKING PEOPLE SICK
  81. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit 2019
  82. ecoWURD Environmental Justice Summit
  83. “We Can’t Breathe: Zulene Mayfield’s Lifelong War with Waste ‘Managers’”
  84. “Is The Black Press Reporting on Environmental Issues?” by David Love
  85. “The Dangerous Connection Between Climate Change & Food” an interview with Jacqueline Patterson and Adrienne Hollis
  86. “An Oil Refinery Explosion That Was Never Isolated” by Charles Ellison
  87. “Philly Should Be Going ‘Community Solar'” an interview w/ PA Rep. Donna Bullock
  88. “Is The Litter Index Enough?” an interview w/ Nic Esposito
  89. “How Sugarcane Fires in Florida Are Making Black People Sick” an interview w/ Frank Biden
  90. Philly Farm Social – Video and Pictures
  91. #PHILLYFARMSOCIAL GETS REAL IN THE FIELD
  92. THE LACK OF DIVERSE LEADERS IN THE GREEN SPACE Environmental Advocacy Organizations – especially the “Big Green” – Really Need More Black & Brown People in Senior Positions
  93. PLASTIC BAG BANS CAN BACKFIRE … WHEN YOU HAVE OTHER PLASTICS TO CHOOSE FROM
  94. WE REALLY NEED POLITICAL STRATEGISTS LEADING ON CLIMATE CHANGE – NOT ACADEMICS
  95. EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS IN A MUCH MORE CLIMATIC WORLD
  96. A SMALL GERMANTOWN NON-PROFIT “TRADES FOR A DIFFERENCE”
  97. IS PHILLY BLAMING ITS TRASH & RECYCLING CRISIS ON BLACK PEOPLE?
  98. BUT WHAT DOES THE GREEN NEW DEAL MEAN FOR BLACK PEOPLE?
  99. HOW GREEN IS PHILLY’S “GREENWORKS” PLAN?
  100. The Future of Work in Philly’s Green Economy event recap #ecoWURD #phillyisgreen
  101. Bike-friendly cities should be designed for everyone, not just for wealthy white cyclists
  102. RENAMING “GENTRIFICATION”
  103. FOUR GOVERNORS, ONE URBAN WATERSHED IN NEED OF ACTION
  104. JUST HOW BAD IS THE AIR HURTING PHILLY’S BLACK FAMILIES?
  105. EcoWURD Presents:The Future of Work in Philly’s Green Economy
  106. IF YOU ARE LOW-INCOME OR HOMELESS, THE POLAR VORTEX IS LIKE A FORM OF CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
  107. NOT JUST FLINT: THE WATER CRISIS IN THE BLACK COMMUNITY
  108. DO THE TRAINS STOP RUNNING? THE SHUTDOWN’S IMPACT ON MASS TRANSIT
  109. BLACK WOMEN & THE TROUBLE WITH BABY POWDER
  110. A WHITE COLLAR CRIME VICTIMIZING NICETOWN
  111. IN NORTH CAROLINA, CLIMATE CHANGE & VOTER SUPPRESSION WORKED HAND-IN-HAND
  112. LOW-INCOME NEIGHBORHOODS WOULD GAIN THE MOST FROM GREEN ROOFS
  113. YOUR OWN HOOD: CLOSING THE GENERATIONAL GREEN DIVIDE IN BLACK PHILADELPHIA
  114. THE PRICE OF WATER: LITERAL & FIGURATIVE THIRST AT WORK
  115. THAT CLIMATE CHANGE REPORT TRUMP DIDN’T WANT YOU TO SEE? YEAH, WELL, IT’S THE LAW
  116. RACIAL & ETHNIC MINORITIES ARE MORE VULNERABLE TO WILDFIRES
  117. NO IFS, ANDS OR BUTTS Philly Has a Cigarette Butt Problem
  118. HOW SUSTAINABLE CAN PHILLY GET?
  119. USING AFROFUTURISM TO BUILD THE KIND OF WORLD YOU WANT
  120. UNCOVERING PHILLY’S HIDDEN TOXIC DANGERS …
  121. WILL THE ENVIRONMENT DRIVE VOTERS TO THE POLLS? (PART I)
  122. ARE PHILLY SCHOOLS READY FOR CLIMATE CHANGE?
  123. 🎧 SEPTA CREATES A GAS PROBLEM IN NORTH PHILLY
  124. 🎧 BREAKING THE GREEN RETAIL CEILING
  125. That’s Nasty: The Cost of Trash in Philly
  126. 🎧 How Can You Solarize Philly?
  127. 🎧 “The Environment Should Be an Active, Living Experience”
  128. Philly’s Lead Crisis Is Larger Than Flint’s
  129. Despite What You Heard, Black Millennials Do Care About the Environment
  130. Hurricanes Always Hurt Black Folks the Most
  131. Are You Going to Drink That?
  132. The Origins of ecoWURD
  133. We Seriously Need More Black Climate Disaster Films
  134. 🎧 Why Should Philly Care About a Pipeline?
  135. 🎧 Not Just Hotter Days Ahead… Costly Ones Too
  136. Philly’s Big and Dangerous Hot Mess

By Charles Ellison | ecoWURD Managing Editor | opinion

The massive Philadelphia Energy Solutions oil refinery explosion and fire that ripped through South Philadelphia in late June has, up until recently, been viewed as just another everyday American infrastructure failure. City officials, including the Mayor’s office and Philadelphia’s health department have not only attempted to reassure a wary public that since no one was hurt the situation is relatively under control, but they have also put great emphasis on the loss of an estimated 1,000 refinery jobs and surrounding small businesses that, reportedly, relied on the presence of refinery staff and workers.   

Yet, from the public official perspective, not much emphasis has been placed on the fact that this was not an isolated incident, that the refinery has been a danger to surrounding communities and the entire city, and that people have been getting hurt by that refinery for quite a long time. In some cases, high incidents of cancer in neighboring communities have resulted in some of the highest mortality rates in Philadelphia. Given the proximity of that refinery, the largest and oldest of its kind in the United States, to residential neighborhoods, this latest disaster represents a new wrinkle in the ongoing discussion over the disproportionate exposure of vulnerable Black, Brown and low income populations to heavy polluting chemical and fossil fuel sites.

Philadelphia is a city of 1.6 million where nearly half the population identifies as Black. The PES refinery, according to the NAACP’s 2017 “Fumes Across the Fence Line report: 

… is responsible for 72 percent of the toxic air emissions in Philadelphia, which contributes largely to a citywide child-hood asthma rate that is more than two times the national average.62 Toxics released from the refinery include ammonia, hydrogen cyanide, benzene, and sulfuric acid, which cause effects ranging from headaches to cancer.

Chronic disease rates are rather high. Local environmental advocacy group PhillyThrive has been highlighting this for years now, capturing it in a 2017 survey of residents around the PES refinery, finding that:

  • 33.9% of participants living near the refinery had asthma at some point in their life, compared to the national average of 7.7%1.
  • 52.6% of respondents living near the refinery had one or more of the following health conditions: asthma, heart disease, cancer, or another respiratory condition.
  • 82% of respondents expressed negative feelings about the PES refinery, with the top critique being that it’s dangerous, a hazard and a health concern.
  • 95% of people who live near the refinery wanted the city to consider having polluters like PES pay for the damages they have caused.

It is particularly bad when an authoritative national report on toxic pollution sites that impact Black populations highlights the PES refinery as one of the top five offenders. Here are some glaring infographics from the NAACP report which underscore that fact:  

In addition, cancer mortality rates are among the highest in the area where the PES plant is situated in Philadelphia, according to the Philadelphia health department’s own disease mapping data …

Image result for maps of philadelphia cancer rates

This is not at all an unusual occurrence.  It is a tragic constant in places where there are high concentrations of Black, Brown, Indigenous and other populations. A recent 2019 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) report shows glaring pollution inequity impacting Black and Latino populations, as well ….

Researchers note further that …

Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) air pollution exposure is the largest environmental health risk factor in the United States. Here, we link PM2.5 exposure to the human activities responsible for PM2.5 pollution. We use these results to explore “pollution inequity”: the difference between the environmental health damage caused by a racial–ethnic group and the damage that group experiences. We show that, in the United States, PM2.5 exposure is disproportionately caused by consumption of goods and services mainly by the non-Hispanic white majority, but disproportionately inhaled by black and Hispanic minorities. On average, non-Hispanic whites experience a “pollution advantage”: They experience ∼17% less air pollution exposure than is caused by their consumption. Blacks and Hispanics on average bear a “pollution burden” of 56% and 63% excess exposure, respectively, relative to the exposure caused by their consumption. The total disparity is caused as much by how much people consume as by how much pollution they breathe. Differences in the types of goods and services consumed by each group are less important. PM2.5 exposures declined ∼50% during 2002–2015 for all three racial–ethnic groups, but pollution inequity has remained high.

Hence, the recent oil refinery explosion in Philly should not be viewed as one in a string of incidents of national infrastructure failure requiring repair. It should offer an opportunity for a revived local and national discussion on the public health consequences of the fossil fuel supply chain and the unequal, uneven distribution of pollution from that supply chain based on race and zip code.

Recent public conversations facilitated by the mayor’s office – now known as the “PES Refinery Advisory Working Group” – can create an optimal quality of life model that sets an example for our region and the rest of the nation: what does it mean to live, work, provide and prosper in a clean, just and safe environment for ourselves, our families, our neighbors and our children.

Which is a key reason why a refinery and massive legacy polluter such as the PES refinery should remain shut down, permanently.  While the circumstances which led to its demise are spectacular and unfortunate, Philadelphians should feel fortunate that the city’s largest air polluter is finally out of operation.  We can easily reflect on just how bad that refinery was for the people who lived around it and the entire city that suffered from it. 

But it’s now time to create an opportunity to really innovate for a clean energy and completely healthy future. 

We must, first, be completely honest with ourselves as a city: this refinery is a prime example of the disproportionate exposure of vulnerable, mostly Black populations to heavy polluting chemical and fossil fuel sites.  This is a national trend.

A city like Philadelphia can defy that trend and create something completely new by keeping the refinery closed and ensuring the land is not sold for future oil or natural gas operations.  must defy that trend by keeping the refinery shut down. In doing so, city priority should be the health and safety of residents and alleviating the years of personal, emotional, and economic cost communities within living distance of that site suffered as a result of the refinery’s operation.  The workers at the refinery can easily transition elsewhere into the region’s alarmingly growing natural gas sector in this region or, even better, easily transfer their skills towards building new Clean Energy infrastructure throughout Philadelphia. But, the countless lives of those suffering or now passed on from respiratory illness, asthma, cancer and other chronic public health conditions can’t be replaced.

Philly cannot put itself in a position of compromising residents by actively considering the revival of a place that is responsible for nearly three quarters of toxic air emissions in Philadelphia, that owes nearly $4 billion in unpaid taxes and has, for years, flagrantly defied Clean Air Act standards.  The Mayor boasts that his goal is to have Philly completely run on renewable or clean energy by 2030 – yet, his administration is allowing the expansion of more methane-leaking natural gas infrastructure through projects such as the SEPTA natural gas plant in North Philly and the PGW natural gas plant in Southwest Philly, while still open to the hope that the PES refinery is resurrected into more unhealthy natural gas in the future.  

How do you go completely renewable energy in 20 years while, at the same time, your city continues to choke on fossil fuel pollution?

There are no real “trade offs” in this situation. It is simply the will and the resources to bring a new vision to Philly. Clean it up and transition the site into a fully operational solar energy farm or even a hydro-power site that powers the city versus killing it.  Calculate the taxes owed by PES and explore potential restitution for sick residents and families. Turn this into a major economic power play for Philly that puts it on a global map, while using it as the impetus for an ambitious and successful 21st century “green economy” that puts Philly’s unemployed, underemployed and vulnerable to work. Don’t show the world what Philly has always been bad at – show the world what a creative, innovative and sensible Philly can be its best at.  That starts with not allowing that refinery to operate for another century ever again.