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.


Streets in and around Port Richmond officially prohibited to truck traffic. (Map by .chris & SEENO)

I recently gave a short presentation at a Port Richmond neighborhood group on some updates from the air quality monitoring we completed this summer. We do air monitoring in the hopes of improving air quality in the neighborhood, and as I’ve mentioned quite a bit, a lot of the air quality issues in the area we assume are related to the highway and truck traffic.

Above is a map of streets that trucks are not allowed to drive on and below is a guide for making those restrictions. Many of these restrictions are either unknown to drivers or unenforced by local authorities. Many of the routes haven’t been amended in decades and are usually scattered throughout the community, only established when residents petition to the City.

Trucks snake in and out of the neighborhood, blow past truck route signs, and clog even the large arterial streets with extreme amounts of traffic congestion. There hasn’t been much planning dedicated to addressing this issue, and we are unsure what affect the highway expansion will have on congestion.

Traffic has to move through and along the neighborhood, but Philadelphia hasn’t really thought about exactly where it should go. Truckers, too, are unsure, meandering through the neighborhood looking for the correct truck entry point, burning more fuel and releasing more particles than they need to in the process.

So, where do we want to put these trucks?