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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 ActThis landmark environmental justice legislation will better protect communities from the negative health effects of pollution. The bill was drafted in partnership with environmental and legal advocates. It provides a better understanding of how new polluting affects communities given current pollution levels, demographics, health characteristics, and other factors. 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 enable the city to better understand the impact of the new project on the existing community landscape and allow the Department of Health the ability to possibly require additional mitigation steps before the project can be proceeded.

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 right to be informed. They should also have a voice in decisions that have an impact on their lives and communities.

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 calls for community input during the development of the environmental just maps and 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 is an Environmental Justice Advocate at public Interest Law Center. She stated, “Today, we are here saying that your life, your health and the well-being of your family and friends, your lives, matter.” People of color and those with low incomes are most likely to be left facing the effects of climate change and the life-altering consequences. 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 that working class Black people live shorter lives in toxic neighborhoods laden with pollutants. It is literally killing us. 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, PennFuture’s Campaign Manager, stated that environmental justice guarantees every Philadelphian the right to live in an environment that is safe and healthy, regardless of their race, income, or ZIP codes. Helen Gyms Community Health Act by Councilmember Helen Gyms is an important step to prioritizing health and well-being in neighborhoods that have suffered long-term environmental damage.

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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