Air pollution in Southwest is exacerbated by high density of auto-related businesses

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If you’ve ever noticed the abundance of junkyards and repair shops in Southwest neighborhoods, you’re not the only one. Researchers at The University of Pennsylvania’s Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology made similar observations and decided to dig a little deeper.

Adrian Wood, the project’s main researcher, identified 64 auto businesses and junk yards in Southwest Philadelphia, more than double the amount at the turn of the century. Out of these 64 businesses, 31 have active citations from Licenses and Inspections (L&I), meaning they have failed inspections for not meeting safety and legal standards set by the city. Over 40% of sites have an air, soil, or fire hazard, and 16 sites have four or more hazards present. 56% of sites near residences have at least one identifiable hazard, and when it comes to children’s safety, seven daycares are within four blocks of an air hazard, and one daycare on 69th and Woodland is within four blocks of six fire hazards.

Pollution is not a new issue for Southwest residents. The brownfield at the site of the former oil terminal on 49th St. which has been sitting dormant since 2006, is finally being decontaminated, as is the former Clearview landfill in Eastwick which operated without a permit for decades. All of this begs the question – why are low-income communities of color in Southwest still dealing with the issue of rampant pollution after all these years?

Low-income communities of color across the country have faced similar challenges for decades. One contributing factor to this reality has been the construction of highways through black and brown neighborhoods as a form of residential segregation. Since the highways were built, these neighborhoods have had to deal with the consequences – intended or otherwise – such as living with copious amounts of air pollution.

Climate scientists have warned for decades that burning gasoline releases carbon into the atmosphere which contributes to the overall warming of our planet. As we have increasingly committed to the convenience of personal vehicles over comprehensive public transportation, the associated risks have been pushed onto communities which have always received the short end of the stick in cases of unequal development. While certain parts of the city become gentrified and long-term residents are displaced, new residents experience the types of development that improve their quality of life. Meanwhile, Southwest gets more junk yards.
Luckily, there is a course of action for residents. The Clean Air Council is providing free outdoor air monitors for homes, businesses, and organizations in Southwest, which will collect and display data about the air quality on a given property. The information collected will be used to advocate for environmental improvement in the area. If you are interested in receiving a monitor, complete the form at tinyurl.com/EPAAirMonitor. Hosts will receive a $50 gift card for participating.

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