Community Outreach and Engagement:
We have selected six target communities located in Southeastern Pennsylvania and affected by a range of environmental health issues. The populations in four of these communities—West Philadelphia, Chester, Eastwick, and Northern Liberties—live in an aging urban environment and face a number of different environmental hazards, including exposure to toxic and industrial sites. The remaining two communities, Palmerton and Ambler, both suffer from large exposure to a single toxic agent (see descriptions below).
West Philadelphia is a widely divergent community that extends West and South of "University City” where the University of Pennsylvania is located. About 220,000 people (or about 14% of the city's population) live, shop, and in many cases work in West Philadelphia, and approximately three-quarters of the population is African-American. The Philadelphia Planning Commission's Plan for West Philadelphia states, "Some West Philadelphia neighborhoods suffer the same ills that affect other older urban areas. Over the last several decades, there has been a substantial loss of middle-class population, widespread poverty, property deterioration and abandonment, and deteriorating infrastructure. . . These trends, although not pervasive, are persistent and have affected the quality and the perception of life in the larger West Philadelphia community. The trends that contribute to these negative perceptions must be halted and reversed if West Philadelphia is to sustain itself as a viable urban community." Serious environmental problems in West Philadelphia include asthma in children, lead exposure from aged housing stock, and exposures from abandoned former small industrial sites. Our primary partner in West Philadelphia is the Sayre Clinic, a non-profit, neighborhood clinic operated next to the Sayre High School. Dr. Pouné Saberi, a physician at the clinic with a strong interest in environmental health, is our key contact and a representative on our Stakeholder Advisory Board. We have conducted multiple education activities about environmental health hazards in West Philadelphia through our Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) Courses. These courses address issues of asthma, lead, prevention of tobacco addiction in preadolescents, and community-based environmental health. We have recently partnered with the Netter Center to use our work with the West Philadelphia community as a pilot program in evaluating the impact of outreach and education programs. We anticipate that this effort will lead to improved models for evaluation of community-focused outreach and education efforts. In addition, West Philadelphia has been a long-time focus of the pioneering asthma prevention work of Tyra Bryant-Stephens, M.D., a member of COEC and the Lung and Airway Disease Research Core. The Community Asthma Prevention Program (CAPP) is a community asthma education program and a unique home environmental mitigation program for patients in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Primary Care Centers.
The Eastwick area of Southwest Philadelphia adjoins West Philadelphia. Environmental concerns include emissions from a petroleum refinery, traffic emissions associated with a major postal distribution center and a freeway running through the neighborhood, and emissions from the neighboring Philadelphia Airport. In the last three years, two major "100 year floods" of Darby Creek have inundated a substantial portion of the community, potentially mobilizing toxic substances from a National Priority List ("Superfund") site that is located just upstream in an adjacent county. There is also concern over the environmental health impacts of numerous small businesses, including dry cleaning and auto-body shops. Dr. Edward Emmett and the COEC have worked with the Eastwick community for the last three years to address environmental health concerns and educate the community on various issues, including those associated with proposals for the siting of new industrial facilities in Eastwick. Our principal community partner is the Southwest Community Development Corporation headed by Donna Henry, who is also a member of our Stakeholder Advisory Board. Eastwick schools have been a longstanding location for our Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) courses in environmental health. These courses focus on asthma, lead, prevention of tobacco addiction in preadolescents, community-based environmental health, and a new topic under development “Children At Risk in the Environment.”
We have been partnering with the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association (NLNA) in Philadelphia to address brownfield development at many toxic sites in the area. The NLNA functions to research the industrial history of the area, educate the community and liaise with officials, agencies and other resources. Northern Liberties is a neighborhood located close to Center City Philadelphia with approximately 5000 residents and 100 industrial facilities. Northern Liberties has a long history as an industrial area with many tanneries and chemical plants along a now buried creek which was subject to flooding. Brownfield development sites are side-by-side with row houses and parks, and the neighborhood is bordered by several superfund sites. Recent concern has been heightened by leaching of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons from a now retired coal power plant into a waterway where residents fish. Redevelopment has seen the population increase 14% since 2000, yet the poverty rate of the area remains above 18%. Three brownfield developments have recently been initiated. NLNA has received a $50,000 grant from the EPA brownfields development program to educate the community and create a database addressing community environmental health hazards. COEC is working with the NLNA to assist with this grant and develop a community informational workshop to discuss the potential health risks of the remediation process.
City of Chester
A city with a prominent place in the history of the environmental justice movement, Chester is located 15 miles south of Philadelphia along the Delaware River and has a population of 36,800. The city has an area of 4 square miles and is located in Delaware County, PA. Although once a prosperous port city, Chester underwent a period of urban blight from which it is now recovering. Presently Chester has no supermarket, a high concentration of industrial facilities, a number of waste-processing plants, and substantial truck traffic. All solid waste for Delaware County (population 556,000) is incinerated in Chester, and at least 85% of the raw sewage and associated sludge is treated in Chester. Chester residents express concerns about the health effects of living and working amid toxic substances, and complain about frequent illness, which they perceive as likely associated with environmental factors. Chester contains minority, poor, urban and industrial areas which contrast with some more prosperous, predominantly white, neighboring areas.
The 1994 US EPA Region III Chester Risk Assessment found Chester to be impacted by the multiple stresses of an economically disadvantaged population—75% minority population and the highest unemployment rate in the county. Cumulative data for 1987-1991 showed Chester had among the highest for age-adjusted mortality and cancer incidence rates in the region for leukemia (all causes combined), and cancers of the prostate, lung, and trachea although total cancer death rates for African-Americans were similar to state rates. According to the Chester Health Department more current data show that although Chester has a lower incidence rate for breast cancer, it has a higher mortality rate than for comparable localities. The incidence of asthma is extremely high. The most recent data on reproductive outcomes show that in 2005 the proportion of low birthweight births was 10.4 compared with 8.1 for the county as a whole and 8.4 for the state. The teenage pregnancy rate was 21.9% (compared with 7.4% and 9.5%), and the late or no prenatal care rate was 9.9% (compared with 4.7% and 4.4%). Despite persistent environmental health challenges, Chester is widely perceived as turning the corner. Private and public funds have been made available for development, providing opportunities to improve environmental health. A new city hall has state-of-the-art computer facilities available to all citizens. New facilities are being located in Chester and a Major League Soccer Stadium is being constructed with major funding ($47 Million) from the State of Pennsylvania.
The Reverend Horace Strand from the Chester Environmental Partnership (CEP) is our first point of contact with Chester and also represents Chester on our Stakeholder Advisory Board. In the early 1990s Rev. Strand of the Faith Temple Church founded Chester Residents Concerned for Quality of Living (CRCQL) and became a major figure in the suit Chester v Seif that went to the US Supreme Court. In 2005, recognizing a greater potential to improve health and environment through cooperative action, Rev. Strand founded the Chester Environmental Partnership (CEP). The CEP is a broad-based organization with representation from the community, Chester City Government, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), USEPA Region III, local solid waste incineration facilities, businesses, local churches, non-profit organizations, Swarthmore College, Widener University, Crozer-Chester Hospital, and a number of developers. A recent achievement of the CEP has been to have 2 of its members trained as Host Municipality Inspectors, to oversee waste management activities at resource recovery, treatment, and disposal facilities in Chester. To learn more about the role of Host Municipality Inspectors click here. The COEC is a long-time and active member of the CEP. Our collaboration with the CEP takes on many varied forms. On an ongoing basis we provide environmental health expertise on various health and environmental justice issues to the CEP. COEC was a major participant in the 2008 Chester Health Fair, coordinated by the City of Chester Health Department. Click here to see photos of the event. As part of the TREES and STEER summer mentorship programs, high school and college students visit Chester, attend a CEP meeting and have a small group discussion with Rev. Strand on environmental justice issues. Rev. Strand also discusses Chester as a compelling example of environmental justice issues in a mandatory session for students getting their Masters in Public Health (MPH). Lastly, MPH students to do their capstone projects on the city of Chester.
Ambler BoRit Site
The BoRit Asbestos Site (a 38 acre “blight”) in Montgomery county, just north of Philadelphia, straddles the townships of Ambler, Upper Dublin and Whitpain. It exists as a result of waste disposal operations by the former Keasby and Mattison Company, Certainteed Corporation, and Nicolet Industries, which all produced large volumes asbestos products including: paper, millboard, electrical insulation, brake linings, piping, conveyor belts, high pressure packings, roofing shingles, cement siding, asbestos cement pipe, automobile parts, laboratory table tops and other products. Various types of asbestos were used in these operations including crocidolite (Blue asbestos), amosite (Brown Asbestos) and crysotile (White Asbestos). Asbestos manufacturing operations occurred on or near the site from 1897 through the late 1980s. The waste disposal sites were known as the “white mountains” and significant community activities such as sledding and playing on the site were commonly reported in the past. Some intermediate cleanup of part of the site has been undertaken, but fraying asbestos products are still observable on the surface of parts of the site, which is adjacent to residential neighborhoods. Workers, families of workers, and former residents who lived near the plant may have been significantly exposed to asbestos. Past community exposures are difficult to adequately evaluate. Recent community concern, particularly over 6 acres of asbestos that have never been remediated, has led to a variety of actions, including the EPA-sponsored stabilization of stream banks at the site of a reservoir whose retaining wall contains considerable asbestos waste. In late 2008 BoRit was selected as one of just 10 new candidate sites for the EPA National Priorities ("Superfund") List. For more information on the EPA's remediation of the BoRit site, please click here. The COEC has been working with the Community Advisory Group (CAG) for the site and is a member of that group. We have been providing advice and education to the group, assisting in the interpretation of information from health and environmental authorities, and have provided technical comment on advice on the health effects of asbestos.
Palmerton (population of approximately 5,500) is notable as the site of two separate primary zinc smelting operations from 1898-1980. SO2 and metal pollution from the sites denuded surrounding mountains, which present a scene that is dramatically different from nearby forested mountains. The area has some of the highest known soil lead levels, as well as significant cadmium, arsenic, and zinc contamination. In 1980, the West Plant closed and the East Plant transitioned to a secondary metal refining and processing operation. In 1982 the site was placed on the National Priorities ("superfund") List, and has been the subject of health assessments by ATSDR (1993) and more recently the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Continuing environmental health issues at Palmerton include permit issues for operation of the sites and recent observations of elevated lead levels in children. Our primary partner in Palmerton is Palmerton Citizens for a Clean Environment, whose president, Louise Calvin, is a member of our Stakeholder Advisory Board. Dr. Sulagna De (a resident in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program) worked with Dr. Edward Emmett to address the Palmerton situation in both her Environmental Health and Epidemiology rotation projects. Dr. De's work resulted in a recommendation for a new round of blood lead testing for Palmerton children. The Pennsylvania Department of Health adopted her recommendation and made free testing available to children. We also use the case study of Palmerton to teach risk assessment and hazard abatement to students in our MPH program. High school and college students in the TREES and STEER programs take a field trip to Palmerton, hosted by Palmerton Citizens for a Clean Environment and the EPA. The students have described the trip as a highlight of their experience.
Environmental Health Resource Guide
A Resource Guide for Community Leaders
Produced for the communities of Chester, Eastwick, Palmerton, Pottstown, and West Philadelphia by the CEET Community Outreach and Engagement Core.