Covanta incinerator in Chester faces allegations of environmental racism

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The incinerator has been in Chester since 1992 and residents have criticized its presence since its inception.

In addition to the DEP clearance process, opponents see an opportunity to reduce pollution at the plant by pressuring county officials to reject Covanta’s attempt to renew a contract that ends April 30. .

The county’s Solid Waste Authority – with some members appointed by former Republican-held county governments – will decide the fate of the contract renewal.

The next public hearing on solid waste management in the county is scheduled for 6 p.m. on September 30, when a representative from Covanta will be among the panelists.

“Not fair to this community”

At Wednesday’s virtual clearance hearing before the DEP, public commentators did not criticize Covanta.

Nearly two dozen people registered as speakers for the two-hour hearing which was accessible by phone and the Internet. Various townships, boroughs and municipalities in Delaware County were well represented.

Speakers had three minutes to speak to the DEP.

Mike Ewal, founder and executive director of the Energy Justice Network, believes the company is not properly regulated for harsh pollutants. Chimneys are monitored daily for four specific pollutants, but others are not checked as often by regulators.

“This is not an appropriate way to monitor what is actually coming out of the chimney of these facilities, and the technology exists to continuously monitor over 50 different pollutants, including many different metals, particles, other gases. acids, dioxins and furans, and more, “said Ewal, who has been training with Covanta since 1994.

The Chester Covanta Incinerator, a waste-to-energy facility that burns waste from Delaware County, Philadelphia, New York City and others, seen from Lewis Street in Chester, Pa. (Kimberly Paynter / WHYY)

He compared the existing regulations to allow people to drive year round on the road without speedometers or rules except for one day.

Ewal wants DEP to require Covanta to continuously monitor its production of particulate matter pollution and other emissions.

WHYY News reached out to Covanta for a response and Nicolle Robles, spokesperson for the company, attributed the near-unanimous criticism it received to artificial uproar and fear tactics.

“Covanta is a strong advocate of public discourse and believes it is important that residents be part of any dialogue regarding their community. It’s unfortunate that a special interest group requisitioned many of these public hearings with a script that only serves to scare people, ”Robles said.

Erica Berman, of Media, who works in Chester at the Delaware County Historical Society, does not accept this.

“As I studied Chester’s history, I learned the depth of corruption and systemic racism that has transformed the waterfront into a hub for pollution and industrial waste. She says it’s no coincidence that the country’s largest incinerator landed in the middle of a low-income black and brown community.

She believes that allowing the incinerator to continue operating perpetuates a cycle of racism. She and other participants in the appeal cited Chester’s high rate of asthma among residents as evidence of lifelong harm.


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