Pa. lawmakers focus on protecting poor neighborhoods from pollution

Justin Udo
August 14, 2019 - 7:55 am
House Rep. (PA) Malcolm Kenyatta attends "Out in Office" panel at Tribeca Celebrates Pride Day at 2019 Tribeca Film Festival at Spring Studio on May 4, 2019 in New York City.

Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A group of Pennsylvania lawmakers are working to tackle environmental justice and health issues affecting residents throughout the state. They're putting a focus on poor communities.

Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta says his 181st district, which contains North Philadelphia, is one of many areas around the commonwealth dealing with environmental issues.

"Whether it is pollutants in our air or in our water, or whether we're talking about the schools in the neighborhood facilities that are still dealing with issues of lead, those tend to always be concentrated in communities where folks are low income."

This summer's refinery fire in South Philadelphia is one of the latest examples of how economically disadvantaged communities are affected by environmental health issues.

"This is a part of the challenge that we find ourselves in, of having to transition from an era of dirty fossil fuel, of coal, of oil, and get on a path that ensures that we have a plan that's safe and clean to leave for our families," he said.

Tuesday Kenyatta hosted a policy hearing Tuesday with other lawmakers at Lutheran Settlement House in the city's Kensington neighborhood to discuss air quality, lack of green space, and exposure to lead and other harmful contaminants.

"We have to say what can we do at a state level to ensure, whether you're in North Philadelphia or you're in Pittsburgh, that the environment where you raise you're family that it's a safe and clean one," he said. "We have to be really creative to find ways to really empower our Department of Environmental Justice, but also taking a holistic look at how we deal with some of these issues separately."

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Justin Dula with the Department of Environmental Protection, who testified at the hearing, says his office is working to make sure poor neighborhoods have the same healthy environmental resources as their counterparts.

"We're updating our policy, and about 33% of Pennsylvania's' population would be covered," Dula said. "And a lot of that is in the city of Philadelphia."

Sonia Galiber, with Urban Creators, a farming non-profit, testified at the hearing about pollution issues city farmers face. 

"Contaminated soil and water make growing food incredibly difficult — at least healthy food, that can be eaten," she said.

This hearing is among a series being held across the state. Kenyatta says they'll use the information they gather to introduce new legislation to fight against pollution in poor areas.