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Councilmember Gym, Environmental Advocates AnnounceCommunity Health Act to Address Environmental Health Disparities

PHILADELPHIA Today Helen Gym (At Large), Councilmember, announced the launch of the Community Health ActThe landmark environmental justice legislation was created to better protect communities from the harmful effects of pollution. This bill was created in collaboration with legal and environmental advocates to better understand how new pollution impacts communities, given existing pollution, demographics and health characteristics. This process will not examine proposals in isolation and prevent concentrated areas from suffering disproportionate pollution-related harm.

Philadelphia must play a stronger role in protecting the communities most likely to be harmed by pollution: low-income communities, immigrant communities, communities of color, and young people,saidCouncilmember Helen Gym.We are empowering the city to use their full authority to fully assess how new projects will impact our communities ensuring new projects dont compound harm or exacerbate the existing disparities.

The legislation requires that the Department of Health conducts comprehensive environmental justice mapping. This will take into account demographic, climate, and environmental indicators. The city will identify the areas of environmental justice communities within the city that have an undued burden of pollution or adverse health impacts. These areas will be assessed for cumulative impacts. This will allow the city and Department of Health to better understand how the proposed project would affect the existing community landscape.

This will make Philadelphia a national leader in advancing environmental justice and build a livable, breathable, healthy future for our city,saidCouncilmember Gym. People most affected by pollution have a right and should be informed.

The Environmental Justice Advisory CommissionThe members of the Advisory Committee on Environmental Justice were also announced on February 2. They will play an integral part in guiding and informing the execution of this legislation. The legislation also requires community input for the development of the environmental justice map and the conduct of cumulative impact assessments.

Jamie Gauthier (3rd Distric) said that when we talk of environmental justice, we also have to consider racial justice. Too often, minorities have been burdened by pollution and the adverse health consequences it causes. The new legislation by Councilmember Gyms is a significant effort that will center equity and will eventually move us towards a future in which all Philadelphians can live in safe and healthy communities.

Ebony Griffin, Environmental Justice Advocate at The public Interest Law Center, stated that today we are here to tell you that your life, your health, and the health of your family and friends, matters. Low income communities and communities of color are often the ones left to deal with the consequences of environmental pollution and the adverse effects on their lives. Enforcement and regulatory agencies reinforce this mindset by failing to adopt equitable permit mechanisms. Today Philadelphia affirms that it is no longer a threat and welcomes the unique opportunity to create a better environment for its residents. We are proud of the hard work and sacrifices made by those who have fought so long. We applaud the City for taking steps to improve the health of its most vulnerable communities.

“As a Black woman from Nicetown, where one in three kids has asthma, including many of my own relatives, I know firsthand what the toll of environmental racism feels like,”said Councilmember Kendra Brooks(At Large). “And with so many of our community members lacking access to quality healthcare, the cumulative impact is devastating. We cannot accept the status quo that Black working class people live in unhealthy neighborhoods full of pollutants. This is literally killing our lives. I commend Councilmember Gym’s bold legislation, because it means that we can begin to tackle the legacy of redlining and environmental racism head-on.”

“Public health requires assessing ALL the layers of toxic burdens, not just one pollutant at a time,said Frances Upshaw,Co-Founder, POWER Climate Justice and Jobs Team. This legislation is supported by us because it promotes racial equality and economic justice on a livable earth. This is a long-awaited step for the city to adequately protect public health.”

The cumulative effects legislation would remove the burden on communities to defend themselves and allow the city government to do what our tax dollars pay for.Shawmar Pitts is a Grays Ferry resident and Strategy Organizer with Philly Thrive. We hope that the cumulative impacts legislation would ease residents’ minds that after decades of harm from pollution, we won’t have to fight the same fight all over again, and our children won’t have to fight the same fight just to have a healthy environment.

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Adam Nagel (Campaign Manager at PennFuture), stated that environmental justice guarantees all Philadelphians the fundamental right of living in a safe, healthy environment, regardless their race, income or ZIP code. Helen Gyms Community Health Act, a Councilmember, is an important step towards prioritizing the well-being and health of neighborhoods that have suffered from environmental policies.

This is long overdue given the City’s substantial asthma and cancer rates, particularly in lower income communities of color, and will be a great tool for communities attempting to prevent additional industrial air pollution from further deteriorating public health, saidJoseph Otis Minott, Esq, Executive Director and Chief Counsel for the Clean Air Council.

February is Environmental Justice MonthWithin the City of Philadelphia


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