Student Support for Environmental Justice in Chester

Madeline Scolio, Staff Writer

About 13 miles away from Villanova’s picturesque campus is the Chester City waterfront, populated by one of the nation’s largest municipal waste incinerators, a coal-fired power plant owned by Covanta and a Scott Paper mill. The waste incinerated there comes not only from Chester and neighboring towns in Delaware County, but also from major metropolitan areas across the East Coast, including Philadelphia and New York City. In fact, only 1.6% of the waste burned in Chester originates from Chester. As a majority-Black community with disproportionate respiratory health issues from incineration, Chester is fighting hard against a long legacy of systemic environmental racism for its right to breathe. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disproportionately impact BIPOC communities and those with long-term exposure to air pollution, the city of Chester and Delaware County must reexamine waste incineration practices now more than ever before.

For the last three decades, one group of Chester residents has come together to address these problems through collaborative advocacy. Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL), founded and led by Chester resident Zulene Mayfield since 1992, has spearheaded conversations at the community level to address the harms of incineration and to consider promising alternative waste management strategies. In 1996, inspired by CRCQL’s vision, students across 15 college campuses in five states founded the Campus Coalition Concerning Chester, or C-4, to help achieve environmental justice. These two groups have made strides to protect the health of Chester and the wider community by advocating against the use of harmful trash incineration. Over the years, these groups have also lobbied city officials to block proposals for new industrial facilities that would further compound the environmental injustices faced by Chester residents. In 1994, the two groups aided in the passing of a trailblazing zoning measure, a policy that prevented additional waste-management facilities from entering Chester if they increased net carbon emissions. By encouraging community mobilization, CRCQL has worked to address the environmental and humanitarian issues caused by these industries.

This year, CRCQL is raising funds to rally support for its belief that everyone has the right to breathe clean air. CRCQL directs donations toward coordinating efforts to shut down the Covanta incinerator by hiring full-time canvassers and advocates from Chester. Covanta’s contract with Delaware County, which stipulates that the county must transfer a minimum of 300,000 tons of waste per year, is up for renewal in the Spring of 2022, and the arbitration process begins this year. CRCQL will use accrued funds to hire and compensate a local Chester resident to lead the charge in renegotiating the Delco-Covanta contract, taking steps with neighboring towns and boroughs to impede its renewal. Even more imminent, however, is the renewal process for Covanta’s contract with Ocean City, MD, a municipality that has no recycling infrastructure in place. CRCQL will also use donations to encourage Ocean City to reinstate recycling practices (which have been absent for upwards of a decade) and, more saliently, to stop shipping its waste stream to Chester.

After surpassing an initial fundraising goal of $3,000 between the outset of the Go Fund Me campaign in November and late January, CRCQL has since increased its interim goal to $4,000. In mid-December, CRCQL enthusiastically announced that an anonymous donor is willing to match up to $10,000 in donations, a promising sign for the fundraiser’s future. CRCQL continues to encourage supporters to share and donate any amount because, as their fundraising page proclaims, “even $5 is greatly appreciated!”

Today, as environmental protection and justice become matters of greater concern across the country, CRCQL is once again joined by renewed engagement from local colleges. As 2021 begins, C-4 is working with new vigor to support CRCQL’s endeavors to advocate for solutions and alternatives that reduce harm to Chester and the surrounding community. As this Coalition moves forward, the University hopes to aid CRCQL in accomplishing its mission and goals.

Now, Villanova’s C-4 chapter aims to support CRCQL by rebuilding alliances with local colleges. In doing so, the chapter aims to collectively spearhead initiatives that promote environmental justice in Pennsylvania. Furthermore, it hopes to interrogate our own college communities’ complicities and roles in this injustice and implement institutional solutions for waste management. C-4 @ Villanova will also aid CRCQL in its “CLOSE COVANTA ” campaign, work to inform local civic leaders and the larger community about the hazards of trash incineration and support CRCQL’s collaboration with Delaware County Environmental Justice on a zero-waste program.

Most importantly, C-4 will need strong student support in order to be an effective ally to CRCQL. The chapter needs students with diverse backgrounds, skills and interests to join in engaging campuses throughout the state, persuading city officials to prioritize public health and uplifting the voices of Chester residents.As partial residents of Delaware County, we need to remember that Chester’s air is our air. As students at a college committed to social justice and equity, we must remember that everyone deserves the right to breathe.

To learn more about C-4, contact Madeline Scolio at [email protected]. CRCQL meets biweekly on Thursdays at 7 p.m. Register for meetings on their website.

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CRCQL Fundraiser: CRCQL Facebook: