South Philadelphia, which includes the Grays Ferry and Point Breeze neighborhoods, contains several communities thriving with small businesses and access to public transportation. South Philadelphia is bounded by the Delaware River and Broad St.
In 2012 the Public Health Management Corporation’s Community Health Data Base estimated that 19.4% of adults in Philadelphia had asthma, a startling comparison to the 7.0% national prevalence. Interstate 95 and Interstate 76 cut through South Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Airport, Navy yard, and refineries lie just beyond its south and southwestern borders. Environmental concerns include emissions from a petroleum refinery, emissions from the Philadelphia Airport, air pollution from traffic associated with a major postal distribution center and two major freeways. There are also a number of Brownfields and vacant lots in South Philadelphia, which can have an impact on the overall community pride and well-being.
South Philadelphia residents believe that their area has increased cancer rates due to their environmental exposures. Many of the citizens also suffer from asthma and pulmonary related diseases.
PES Oil Refinery Explosion
On Friday, June 21st, 2019, an explosion occurred at the Philadelphia Energy Solutions (PES) Oil Refinery’s alkylation unit resulting in a large plume of visible smoke, and the subsequent filing of bankruptcy by PES. There were significant concerns about the release of toxic chemicals, in particular, hydrogen fluoride (HF), a chemical which if released could cause severe health problems. Experts before the PA Senate Environmental Resources & Energy Committee expressed concerned that local air monitors were not positioned to adequately measure contaminated air from the explosion. CEC director, Marilyn Howarth, along with a written air analysis by CEET researcher and Drexel professor Peter Dicarlo, presented a 20-minute testimony about the health risks of reinstating an oil refinery at the same location.
View the testimony online here:
An WHYY news article about the need for better air monitoring:
PES refinery fire highlights need for better air monitoring, experts tell Pa. lawmakers
CEC Activities in South Philadelphia
Our principal community partner is the Southwest Community Development Corporation headed by Donna Henry, who is also a member of our Stakeholder Advisory Board.
South Philadelphia schools have been a longstanding location for our Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) courses in environmental health. These courses focus on asthma, lead, prevention of tobacco addiction in preadolescents, and community-based environmental health.
CEC-GAMP Air Pollution Partnership
Poor outdoor air quality is associated with an increased prevalence of asthma and related morbidities. In order to address this heavy burden of air pollution to the South Philadelphia community, we partnered with the local Girard Academic Music Program (GAMP) School to develop an air pollution curriculum with an emphasis on community outreach. In collaboration with US-EPA Region III and Philadelphia Air Management Services (AMS), we were able to develop an interactive curriculum that was integrated this school year into a 10th grade physical science course and a high school Environmental Science elective course. With a focus on dissemination to peers and the community, students worked on learning to translate air quality data into a variety of public service announcements and other presentations.
This neighborhood and school-partnered event was a step toward closing the information gap between a community overburdened by air pollution and government agencies with air quality data. It brought together people whom might not normally interact together in a fun, outdoor, summertime setting.
Dr. Howarth joined CEET scientist Peter DeCarlo and CEC SAB member Tyra Bryant Stephens in a Workshop on the Health Impacts of Air Quality on Communities in the Vicinity of the PES refinery sponsored by Philly Thrive