Residents of Chester, Pennsylvania have been the victims of pollution-related health risks for decades. Chester is home to numerous hazardous and municipal waste treatment sites, which generate air pollution and can contaminate soil and groundwater. Now members of the community are taking matters into their own hands, starting environmental watchdog groups and holding meetings to discuss ways to improve conditions in their town.
One such meeting took place recently at Faith Temple Holy Church, wherein residents discussed their concerns with experts from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the National Toxicology Program. Attendees provided valuable insight into what life in Chester is like and how they are confronted with environmental concerns in their daily lives. In turn, experts gave them information on grants for research and clean-up efforts that could give scientists and health officials the resources they need to improve conditions.
Clusters of Factories Caused Severe Environmental Damage
Chester was a major manufacturing site during World War II. The multitude of factories in the area was a blessing for families seeking jobs, but little was known to the workers of the environmental risks at the time. After the war, many of those jobs were lost, and residents were left with abandoned factories that experts say are leaking chemicals into the ground and contaminating the water supply.
When the factories left, hazardous waste treatment facilities moved in, including a trash-to-steam incinerator and an infectious medical waste treatment facility that is one of the biggest in the country. Air pollution and illegal dumping were two of the concerns discussed at the meeting in early June. Health issues from pollution had become so bad at one point that parents had to take their children away from the area to get well, as one resident reported.
Asbestos Exposure Among the Risks Faced by Residents
Abandoned factories throughout the town have also been found to contain asbestos. Asbestos is a naturally-occurring mineral that was used heavily in construction and manufacturing until the 1970s. Asbestos exposure causes a number of deadly respiratory conditions including mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer infecting the lining of the lungs, heart, and chest cavity. The disease is notoriously resistant to many common cancer treatments, leaving patients with few options and a short life expectancy.
In addition to exploring funding opportunities to clean up their community, Chester residents are embracing activism to prevent further damage to the environment. Citizens are joining groups such as the Chester Environmental Partnership (CEP), which monitors local businesses to ensure they are abiding by their contracts. CEP recently prevented Soil Reclamation Services from opening in Chester, a move which would have compounded the already serious environmental issues in the town.
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