Hundreds gather for 3rd Annual Environmental Justice March in Chester, PA

April 22, 2023 – Chester, PA. – Over 200 people marched and caravanned from Chester City Hall to the front of Covanta’s trash incinerator, calling for an end to acts of environmental racism.  Hosted by Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL, pronounced “circle”), the march demonstrated the need for clean air and justice for Chester City residents. Unfortunately, the city of Chester has numerous polluting industries located within its bounds, including the largest trash incinerator in North America operated by Covanta. 

Covanta’s incinerator burns nearly 3,500 tons of trash and industrial waste a day right in a densely populated black community, without the amount of pollution controls that other facilities require. The pollutants released include dioxins, nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and more – all of which have serious health consequences. Of course, the pollutants emitted from the incinerator don’t stay in one place or one town, but having the incinerator hosted in Chester is a blatant act of environmental racism

“This isn’t just about Covanta,” said Zulene Mayfield, chairperson of CRCQL. “This is a reminder to all of the polluters of this city – we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, and we’re demanding justice. And this should be a warning sign to ANY polluting business that thinks they’re coming to Chester,” she said. 

To kick off the Environmental Justice March, attendees gathered at Chester City Hall midday. The marchers headed down 5th Street, crossed over Pennell, and down I-291 to the front of Covanta’s operations on Highland Avenue. A caravan of cars followed the hundreds of marchers, who were all led by the Positive Movement Entertainment drumline. Both those in the cars and the marchers themselves chanted for justice and carried signs. “Ban the Burn,” “End Environmental Racism,” and “Clean Air for Chester,” were some of the signs being carried. 

Once the marchers and the caravan arrived at Covanta, remarks were given by several key attendees, including CRCQL Chairperson Zulene Mayfield, City Councilmember Stefan Roots, State Rep. Carol Kazeem, CRCQL Member Will Jones, Philly Thrive Leader Shawmar Pitts and 90-year-old resident Ossie Morse“I can’t march anymore unfortunately…” the resident said. “But thank you for marching for us.” Other groups in attendance included C4 (Campus Coalition Concerned Chester), EQAT, Climate Action Team, League of Women’s Voters, Conservation Voters of PA, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Health Educated, Philly Thrive and Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

The Covanta trash incinerator is the same one recently in the news due to Philly Mayoral candidate Jeff Brown’s tasteless remarks during a mayoral forum. Philadelphia sends thousands of tons of trash to be burned in Chester. Some of the remarks were also about the recent sham of a hearing held by the Philadelphia LNG Task Force on Thursday. Community leaders and residents were barred from entering, and dozens of cops swarmed the location. “No decision will be made about us, without us,” said Mayfield. 

CRCQL has been fighting for Chester’s right to clean air and a healthy environment for 30 years now. They are working on holding multiple polluting industries accountable, including Covanta’s trash incinerator and the Delcora sewage treatment plant. Thanks to their organizing, Delaware County Solid Waste Authority is rethinking where they send their trash and is considering multiple alternatives.

The energy and the turnout of Saturday’s Environmental Justice March shows the vigor behind the fight for each person’s right to breathe clean air and live in a healthy environment. 

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