Listen, are you breathing
“Listen are you breathing just a little, and calling it a life?” – Mary Oliver
CFET has continued to work to better understand how it came to be that Camden, once a prosperous city, has become so overburdened with pollution and to discover ways in which it is possible to work toward improving our air quality. The pandemic has only helped to make the importance of this issue more clear. As studies have shown , air pollution has been identified as a factor in COVID-19 mortality and so environmental justice communities already suffering from the health effects from decades of pollution from industries surrounding their neighborhoods have another reason to despair during this latest health crisis. In continued efforts to give community members a voice in this discussion, we connected a reporter from Grist magazine, who is working on a story about environmental justice, with a long time Camden resident for an interview about how he has been impacted by decades of industry pollution and political neglect in his community.
On a very related note, during the past several weeks have been a series of virtual Zoom meetings and webinars, city council meetings, and phone discussions with partner organizations around the proposed Microgrid project in our neighborhood. This project promises to make our county sewer treatment facility more resilient to power outages, and will reduce the amount of water drawn from the aquifer. However, the microgrid will be tied to the nearby incinerator to provide power, raising concerns that such infrastructure will increase the lifespan and financial viability of the largest industrial polluter in our region. This is a complicated project and although we have learned much, there are many questions remaining and we will be paying close attention during the approval process, which will be ongoing for at least the next 18 months.
Communities like Camden would not suffer from such a burden of pollution if government policy protected citizens from multiple pollution sources being allowed to coexist in the same area. That is why this new proposed legislation, the result of many years of organizing and advocacy work through the Ironbound Community Corporation and the NJ Environmental Justice Coalition, is so important. It would require any new polluting facilities to conduct a cumulative impact study before being granted a permit for construction. Unfortunately this only applies to future permit applications, not to current industry. This basic level of protection for our most vulnerable communities is long overdue, and more work needs to be done to ensure that our society shares the burden of pollution equally. Let’s continue working for a more just future where we can all breathe a little easier.
About the Grantee
The Center for Environmental Transformation (CFET) manages three gardens in Camden. CFET has an innovative youth program that uses urban agriculture to develop young minds and teaches healthy eating. We host service learning retreats focused on the environment and food justice and have recently begun focusing on community organizing around environmental justice issues in our neighborhood.