In the intricate web of waste disposal and environmental impact, one city stands at the forefront of a profound environmental justice battle – Chester, Pennsylvania. Beyond the routine disposal of trash lies a distressing narrative of environmental racism, where marginalized communities bear the burden of Philadelphia’s waste.
Zulene Mayfield, a dedicated environmental advocate in Chester, has called for urgent action on environmental concerns that deeply affect her community. Mayfield, the chairperson of Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL, pronounced “circle”), joined P.O.C. on ecoWURD to discuss the pressing need for greater environmental responsibility, especially as both Philadelphia and Chester anticipate leadership changes.
Chester and Philadelphia are two cities on the side of the same coin. “Listen, we are your neighbor. We are your relatives. We are your kinfolk,” said Mayfield. But Philadelphia’s brotherly love seems to reach only as far as its city lines as the city shut down its incinerators due to health concerns while continuously sending its trash to the Cobanta incinerator in Chester.
CRCQL implored Philadelphia not to renew its trash contract with the Cobanta incinerator, emphasizing the severe health consequences faced by Chester’s residents, including asthma, cancer and various diseases.
Speaking about the mayoral election in Philadelphia and the new leadership in Chester, Mayfield expressed optimism: “We need people that are going to put people over profits. I just believe, you know, women rule the world, and once we get in positions of authority, we make some changes, and we make it for the benefit of all people.”
Recently, the Philadelphia Union built a 32-acre sports complex on the Chester Waterfront, which has only exacerbated these issues for Chester residents. Mayfield noted that it has not brought economic benefits to Chester as hoped for by residents. The stadium only continues to perpetuate the issues of environmental harm as the trash generated from the stadium is sent to the adjacent incinerator.
One of CRCQLs efforts as a group is around educating visitors on the environmental impact of the Subaru stadium. Many seem to be ignorant to the real costs that their sports entertainment may have. Ultimately, it’s crucial that people are aware of the impact that their trash has on the community.
Philadelphia has to consider the consequences of its decisions on Chester — not just in terms of the trash, but also how our city takes up space in their community. In order to focus on economic development in the area, city leadership needs to figure out first how to stop the environmental harm.
This fight is not just sequestered to Chester; it’s a broader environmental challenge and as Mayfield puts it, “This is about communities collaborating, coming together and being on the tip of a sphere to start saving our communities and saving our people,” she said. “That’s what it’s really about.”