Industrial Air Pollution (image: Shutterstock)

Air Pollution. Climate change. Environmental hazards. These words float around the internet, news feeds, and fill the air waves from time-to-time, but most often tends to be forgotten or takes a backseat in issues when the day is done. This is especially the case in environmental justice neighborhoods. Is it because it’s an issue that has been talked to death? Or is it all politics? Either way air issues and hazards cannot be continue to be ignored.

Just recently the World Health Organization’s cancer research division, the International Agency for Research on Cancer announced that air pollution–emissions from industrial facilities, vehicle exhaust, and wood-biomass  burning are associated or linked to some cancers. This announcement by the WHO is landmark in that it is the first time that outdoor air pollution has been deemed a carcinogen (Click here to read the full report. **note: must first download epub reader). This report is a strong nudge for environmental health organizations such as Clean Air Council and communities that are impacted by environmental hazards to take action and translate that into effective policies, strategies, and stronger environmental oversight.

Clean Air Council has expanded its Environmental Justice Program in Philadelphia from  Port Richmond into much of Philadelphia’s Delaware RiverWards communities including Bridesburg and Kensignton. The program is now moving towards organizing and education in the RiverWards communities about the environmental hazards and air quality issues in area, and to build effective policy recommendations to take to their community leaders and elected officials. We will begin environmental hazards workshops and policy workshops starting in November 2013.


particulate measurement map

Above is a map of the particulate matter concentrations taken during the River Wards Environment Tour in May. (Below is a brief description for each site on the map). Pete DeCarlo and atmospheric chemist from Drexel University brought along his monitor and collected observations on four different sizes of particulate matter. This is the resulting map for our PM 2.5 observations, and though it was made using only brief measurements it can tell us a few things about air quality in the River Wards:

First, nowhere in this map meets the qualifications for “good” air quality according to the Air Quality Index. This isn’t surprising for a city, no less an industrial area inside of a city, but that is our point.  Measurements were taken on a normal day with the usual amount of construction, bustle, etc.

Second, the map confirms many of the environmental concerns already voiced by neighborhood residents. Scrapyards to the west and pockets of asphalt recycling across both neighborhoods make an appearance on the map, each surrounded by larger circles hitting the red and even purple marks on the AQI scale.

The tour was a great success and we look forward to sharing more of the River Wards’ environmental landscape in the future. We will also be working with some of our local regulatory agencies to ensure that these dirty spots on the map are appropriately cleaned up. Thanks for everyone’s hard work, particularly our community researchers who put the time in to help research the sites for the tour.


APPENDIX i: TOUR SWAG (right click, save link as)

Route Map with Descriptions

Media Release

Particulate Matter Information

Land-use in Port Richmond and Bridesburg

Tour Flyer

Port Richmond and Bridesburg, and the River Wards more generally, have more potential environmental hazards than most other places in the Philadelphia region. From waste transfer stations, to chemical storage, to regular heavy-duty truck traffic, there are plenty of potential sources or air, water, and soil pollution. Local residents, community organizations and Clean Air Council are concerned with the amount of hazards that exist now and the new sources of pollution that may exist in the future. As Philadelphia continues to remake the Delaware waterfront, we are encouraging local policy-makers to consider what this means for the health and well-being of waterfront and port communities like the River Wards. 

And so, the River Wards Environment Tour now has a final date! In just under two weeks, we’ll be meeting at Campbell Square park in Port Richmond to start an in-depth exploration of the local environment. Using the research local residents have done on environmental hazards, the tour will highlight the environmental history of the places we are most frustrated and concerned with. We are also going to highlight the things that make these River Wards neighborhoods the great places they are. From local businesses to open spaces, we’ll point out some of our most loved spots.

We’ll have environmental researchers on hand from Drexel University talk about and answer questions about local pollutants and their sources. Diane Sicotte, an environmental sociologist, will talk about different types of hazards in the area, where they came from, and why they are still here. We’ll also have Pete DeCarlo, an atmospheric scientist, on hand to collect real-time measurements of particulate matter while we move through the neighborhoods. Clean Air Council will provide transportation, and Chris Mizes (that’s me) will be your urban environment tour guide for the afternoon. Looking forward to an exciting tour and remember, if you are a resident or representing an organization and would like to attend please RSVP. Spaces are filling up fast!




Workshop participants use participatory mapping to identify both environmental concerns and neighborhood assets in Port Richmond and Bridesburg.

Clean Air Council has spent the past month working with neighborhood residents in Bridesburg and Port Richmond (two River Wards neighborhoods) to develop a tour of the area’s built environment. We’re mostly concerned with two broad types of places in these neighborhoods: (1) sites that we as residents and advocates see as environmental concerns, and (2) places that local people see as assets to the neighborhood. The purpose of the tour is to highlight some of the issues we see in the area and continue a conversation on how best to address concerns and improve assets.

From the workshops we held in march, we have developed a map of resident toxics research, environmental concern, and neighborhood assets. Putting this all on the map in our workshops helped us visualize exactly where the things are that the community is most concerned with. In the first workshop, we searched through the databases on environmental hazards managed by the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) . We identified a few sites of concern and researched what types of pollutants they either emit or store. In the next workshop, we met to plot out a broader set of concerns and assets: those that are not included in the official databases. This ranges from polish sausage markets to concrete recycling facilities, neither of which are included in the formal databases the E.P.A. manages.


A screen shot of our interactive community mapping project. Click the image to take you to the online map presentation.

Finally, Clean Air staff worked with students in the department of City and Regional Planning at the University of Pennsylvania to digitize these maps. We produced a clean, readable interactive map that visualizes the results of our two mapping workshop sessions held in March. Click on this sentence to take you to the map presentation and tutorial we created (use the arrows at the bottom of the screen to navigate through the slides). The next step is for residents of Port Richmond and Bridesburg to use this map to finalize the list for the River Wards Environment Tour that will be held in early May (details to come!). If you live or work in or around either of these neighborhoods, please look through this map and identify 10 assets or concerns that you would like highlighted on the tour. E-mail your submissions to Chris Mizes at cmizes(at)cleanair(dot)org.


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Coarse coke at a materials movement and storage facility. A form of coal used for energy production that releases black carbon when combusted.

From using carbon-dating to place the age of fossils, to speculation on poly-cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons being the elemental foundation of life on earth, humans should have some kind of deep respect for carbon as the basic building block of life. Carbon is the center of our universe, except that it is everywhere and, perhaps, has no center. To the community health team at CAC, though, carbon isn’t exclusively the elemental foundation of existence from which all life emanates. To us, carbon is black: it is a particularly pesky carcinogenic aerosol produced by incomplete fossil fuel combustion. In other words, it is air pollution produced by vehicles that has the potential to cause cancer. As of this January, it also has the potential to make a clear political connection between human health and global climate change. Read More

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Our air speaks to the internet. Air Quality Egg base stations glow different colors as they feed NO2 and CO data into the Clean Air Council router.

Our Air Quality eggs have arrived! Wait, what’s that?

Earlier in 2012, Clean Air Council donated to #airqualityegg’s kickstarter campaign, a small group of DIY designers, engineers, computer nerds, etc. that decided to make an open-sourced do-it-yourself air quality monitor. Working on an air monitoring campaign in Philadelphia, we understand the need for inexpensive and openly available methods for everyday folks to understand the quality of the air around them.

We put two eggs up in our office: poached is currently perched on the ledge outside our third floor office window in the Rittenhouse neighborhood of Philadelphia; over-easy is inside the office, humming away next to my co-worker’s desk. Those links in our cute egg names will connect you to the live feed of air quality data for each of our eggs. If you’d like some historical data from our monitors click on poached or over-easy and it will take you to the historical and live feeds for each. Read More

Clean Air Council staff and volunteers say, “Thanks, EPA.”

Earlier this summer, residents from Port Richmond participated in a special hearing at the Environmental Protection Agency aimed at reviewing the current national standards for particulate matter. The standard is for particulate matter (sometimes called soot) that is less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter. Particulate matter is actually dust, but the dust created by combustion engines (i.e. your car, diesel trucks, etc.) is very small and has harmful chemicals attached to it. The smaller these particles are, they can travel deeper into your body where they have much more serious health consequences. 

Residents from Port Richmond came out to the Philadelphia hearing to testify in support of the new standard, which would lower the current ambient standard of 15 micrograms per meter cubed. On December 14, EPA announced that it would officially reduce the standard to 12 micrograms, marking the first change in standards in over a decade. Clean Air Council officially thanked the EPA for their hard work by collecting over 300 signatures in support of the decision. You can find our press release for the event here, with a quote from Port Richmond resident Jackie Saier.

This decision will require states to refine their strategic plans for reducing particulate matter emissions, and will ultimately help improve air quality in urban areas such as Philadelphia. We don’t know yet if any new pollution reduction programs will be targeted in the River Wards because of this new standard. The next year will give us a better idea of how this new standard will affect implementation plans in Pennsylvania. Still, this is a win for those Port Richmond residents that came out to the hearing this summer. Good work.