Environmental Concerns in South Philadelphia

I just participated in a focus group discussion about potential environmental issues in South Philadelphia.  The discussion was moderated by Dr. Michelle Kondo of the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Science and Policy and the United States Forest Service.  It was a small group that also included former State Representative Harold James.  We were given a map of South Philadelphia and asked to outline our neighborhood.  We were also asked to highlight positive and negative locations in the neighborhood. 

I indicated that my neighborhood consisted of the boundaries for Point Breeze.  In my estimation, this would include Broad Street to 25th Street and Washington Avenue to Moore Street.  Everyone who participated had a different perspective on what their neighborhood was.  Working as a Coordinator for South Philadelphia EPIC now, my perspective is that I represent all of South Philadelphia.  The meeting took place at 2600 Morris Street in the Grays Ferry section of South Philadelphia.  This area was once a racial powder keg but is now becoming more peacefully diverse.

It was recounted at the meeting that the Environmental Protection Agency received a grant to purchase high tech equipment to monitor the air quality in South Philadelphia.  Harold James seemed to remember that sirens would go off if the air quality went below a certain level.  One of my questions is what can we do as residents if something disastrous was to happen.  I can remember the Chernobyl disaster in the Ukraine and the nuclear meltdown.  Also, as a result of an earthquake and tsunami, Japan became worldwide news for the wrong reasons:

Not so long ago, Fukushima was a quiet rural region of Japan, renowned for its green mountains, hot springs and sweet summer peaches.
Today, however, the Fukushima region, in northeast Japan, has more sinister associations: it has achieved global notoriety as home to one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters in modern history.
It was more than nine months ago when Japan was rattled by the powerful March 11 earthquake and tsunami which claimed close to 20,000 lives across swathes of the eastern coast.
Despite the passing of time, the nation remains far from recovered, as it continues to struggle not only with reconstructing the damaged regions – but also in dealing with the nuclear fallout triggered by the disaster.
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 150 miles northeast of Tokyo, was severely damaged by the earthquake and tsunami with its crucial cooling systems knocked out, resulting in a series of explosions, meltdowns - and the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years.

Many residents have experienced the unthinkable in terms of natural or man made disasters and I wonder if that is what we are preparing for.  It was detailed at the meeting that the refineries were built in 1890. 
Also, this fact estimate was published in the Philadelphia Business Journal in 2012:

Revitalizing Sunoco Inc.’s refinery in South Philadelphia will require more than $200 million, according to a managing director of the asset-management firm involved in the joint venture that plans to take over the facility. 

Maybe it is time for a shutdown and upgrade rather than preemptively monitoring air quality.  Many residents of Point Breeze and Grays Ferry will not react until our asthma rates are elevated and we have dire health consequences.  How does the focus group help them to prepare?

Once at least 40 residents attend the focus groups, then a finding of the study will be published.  We are asked about the positive and negative aspect of living in our community.  I relayed that I was shocked to find out about the level of violence affecting people on S. Croskey Street and S. Hemberger Street.  The overall outlook on this and other streets near Snyder Avenue was negative.  These residents fear gunshots and aimless youth more than breathing tainted air.  We were asked about pollution but compared to some other major cities, i think Philadelphia is doing well with regards to air quality.   If the news is more serious than a series of focus groups, let us know soon Dr. Kondo.

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