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Wednesday, June 5, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Biden administration awards $300 million to decontaminate polluted lands

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the grant program in Southwest Philadelphia, where $2 million will go toward cleaning a brownfield blighting the region's majority-Black community.

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Communities nationwide suffering from long-standing environmental contamination may soon get a literal breath of fresh air after the Environmental Protection Agency awarded on Monday more than $300 million in brownfield decontamination and revitalization grants.

Funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the EPA’s investments aim to transform polluted and abandoned properties across the U.S. into community assets, with more than 80% of grants set to fund projects in areas that include disadvantaged communities.

EPA administrator Michael Regan announced the grant program Monday afternoon in front of a Southwest Philadelphia brownfield in Kingsessing, which operated as an oil terminal from 1942 to 2006 before the site was closed off.

“In overburdened and underserved communities, the arrival of this program is a turning point,” Regan said. “Restoring brownfields provides an opportunity to ensure our neighborhoods are not just safe enough for our children to play in, but also strong enough for our children to grow in and to thrive in.”

As part of the grant program, the Kingsessing brownfield will undergo a $2 million cleaning project, removing petroleum and semi-volatile organic compounds stemming from the site’s industrial past.

“For generations, residents of this neighborhood — particularly the Kingsessing community, and particularly African American families — have lived in the shadows of these injustices,” said Maitreyi Roy, executive director of Bartram’s Garden, a 50-acre public garden surrounding the brownfield. “These toxins have inflicted severe health conditions, particularly for children and elders.”

One such health condition caused and exacerbated by brownfield toxins is asthma — contaminants such as petroleum and lead can both cause people to develop asthma, and can trigger asthma attacks in those who already have it.

In Philadelphia — which has one of the nation’s highest asthma rates — this burden is felt most significantly by its communities of color. In 2020, Hispanic and non-Hispanic Black children had asthma related hospitalizations over four times more than non-Hispanic white children.

And adults in Kingsessing and Paschall — two majority-Black neighborhoods surrounding the brownfield — experience asthma at significantly higher rates compared to the rest of the city, according to a 2019 study by the Philadelphia Department of Health.

“By removing petroleum-impacted soils, remediating degraded riverfront land and improving the soil and groundwater quality of the area, this project provides a long-overdue investment in a predominately African American community that has not received adequate investment or resources where heavy industrial uses in the area have contributed to substantial environmental justice issues,” said Jodie Harris, president of the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, an economic development agency at the helm of the site’s revitalization efforts.

Following the cleanup of lingering industrial pollutants, the site is planned to serve as a linchpin for three separate restorative projects in the area, including a biotech campus, aimed at further solidifing Philadelphia’s status as a global hub for health sciences.

City officials also announced plans to realign a section of the Schuylkill River Trail on the site of the current brownfield, making it easier to travel between Southwest Philly and the rest of the city.

Bartram’s Garden also announced plans to build a riverfront field station on-site to study workforce development, climate resilience and urban environmental propagation.

“I’ve long believed that people who’ve borne the burden of pollution should be the first to see the benefits of new investments,” said President Joe Biden in a written statement. “Under my administration, we are making that a reality by ensuring the historic resources from my Investing in America agenda reach communities that need it most. I am proud that my Administration is helping Philadelphia clean up and transform this area into an economic engine, while tackling a longstanding environmental injustice and creating good-paying jobs.”

Philadelphia is among 178 communities to receive brownfield grants. The EPA also awarded $35 million to Massachusetts and $33 million to Maine, among others, for similar brownfield cleanup efforts.

Categories / Environment, Government, Health

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