Jeff Brown may not care about Chester, but Philly should. Stop sending your trash here.
I went to bed angry on Tuesday night. It’s now two days later, and I’m still angry. Not just angry — I’m livid.
I didn’t watch the debate between the leading mayoral candidates on TV, but midway through it, my phone started blowing up. “Did you see that?” people asked.
I found the clip, and here is what I saw:
Moderator Shiba Russell to Jeff Brown: “Where Philadelphia transports some of his trash has sparked accusations of pollution and environmental racism, specifically from the residents of Chester. Would you, as mayor, keep or change the existing waste disposal contracts?”
Jeff Brown: “So, um, I really don’t … I’m not sure. I would bid it out, but I’m not sure if that changes it or not. But Chester is Chester. I’m worried about Philadelphians and how their lives are. And so what would come first to me is what would be best for my Philadelphians.”
Shiba Russell: “So you don’t care about Chester? The trash that’s coming from Philadelphia …”
Jeff Brown: “I do care, but I don’t work for them if I’m the mayor. I work for Philadelphia. And the trash has to go somewhere. And whoever gets it is going to be unhappy with it.”
As a founding member and the chairperson of Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living, the organization that has been fighting off polluters since 1992, with a home I own facing the incinerator that burns 400,000 tons of Philadelphia’s trash every year, I felt these words in my body. I felt them in my spirit.
To me, Brown wasn’t just dismissing the humanity of the residents of Chester. He was dismissing the humanity of Black and brown people everywhere. He said the quiet part out loud.
He didn’t mention Black and brown people, but everyone knows that Chester is mostly — 72% — Black. Another 10% are other people of color. Comments like these dismiss our humanity, our right to have the same desires as anyone else: to live cleanly, safely, be with our families, educate our children, and boost the next generation.
If the trash needs to go somewhere, why not send it to Chestnut Hill or Rittenhouse Square?
After the debate, I went to Jeff Brown’s campaign page and invited him to come to Chester, to see the incineration site and meet the wonderful people who are fighting for our community. I haven’t heard back.
I want him and everyone in Philadelphia to come to Chester, to see for themselves the Covanta-owned incinerator, which burns more than 1 million tons of trash from Philly, New Jersey, and New York, among other sites. It is the nation’s largest incinerator, burning more than 3,000 tons of trash per day, and one of the largest emitters of particulate matter, which affects the respiratory system. Nearly 40% of Chester kids have asthma; in Philly the rate is closer to 20%, and it’s only 8% nationwide.
But I don’t want people to just come for the incinerator. Chester is the oldest city in Pennsylvania and is due respect. I want them to come see what Chester residents call our “C pride” — we love each other and our community. We want our community to be everything we want it to be, and we work for that.
As mad as I am, I do hope something good can come out of what happened during the debate:Brown’s indefensible commentslet more people in Philadelphia know where their trash goes, and opened some of their eyes to the problem of trash incineration. The city’s contract with Covanta is up for renewal next year, and I hope this moment will help convince people to stop practicing environmental racism by sending their trash to Chester to be burned. Other communities — such as Detroit and Hartford, Conn. — have shuttered their trash incinerators. Landfills are a much safer alternative.
It’s been two days since the debate, but the emotions in Chester haven’t died down. I’ve gotten dozens of calls and texts from people who are angry, and the comments on my Facebook page haven’t slowed down.
We are your neighbors, not your dumping ground.
To Philadelphians, I say: We are your neighbors, not your dumping ground. We are not your solution for waste management. You have some brilliant people in Philadelphia, with ideas for alternative solutions to waste disposal. At some point, Philadelphia needs to wean itself off incineration. This is an antiquated system, past its life span, and not a solution. It is a contributing factor to the demise of our environment and hindering the economic development of our community.
The city needs to make a decision to exercise some true “brotherly love,” and make the decision to stop causing harm, destruction, and the devaluation of the community of Chester. Do not renew your contract to send trash to Chester.