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Assessing the Cumulative Effects of Particulate Emissions on Community Health

Chester, Pennsylvania

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Every day for the last thirty years, a row of industrial facilities on the Delaware River releases several hundred pounds of harmful particulates into the surrounding environment. The City of Chester, Pennsylvania has been organizing against this pollution for just as long. Home to approximately 34,000 people, Chester is located in Delaware County, between Ridley Creek to the north and the Delaware River to the south. It is bisected by highways I-95 and I-476 where more than 180,000 vehicles pass every day. Historically, it has been a hotspot for industries to cluster due to economic decline, available land and a disempowered population which is predominantly African-American and working-class. These industries include waste-to-energy facilities, wastewater treatment plants, and manufacturing plants whose emissions have significantly increased asthma and cancer risks in Chester.

In response, Chester community leaders rallied under the organization Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRQL) to shut down an incoming waste disposal plant and bring the conversation on environmental justice to the federal level. Subsequently, the Chester Environmental Partnership (CEP) was formed to bring together community members, government agencies, industry representatives, and other stakeholders to address different health impacts of water and air pollution. CEP’s current objective is to work with Thriving Earth Exchange to analyze the cumulative effects of industrial particulate emissions on the public’s health. 


The Project

The CEP’s ultimate goal is to produce a report detailing as many exposures that Chester residents are experiencing as available data allows.  It would include what each facility is emitting, how much is being emitted, traffic related air pollution, and any other sources. It would also evaluate the risks of the pollutants and how their combination is affecting the prevalence of specific health conditions. Other important factors to examine are how Chester compares to surrounding communities in terms of air pollution.The first priority is collecting detailed data on all sources of emissions to create a cumulative assessment of what exactly is affecting Chester. Specifically, the team would first like to assemble data on all known sources of emissions (facilities or other infrastructure),. Dr. Marilyn Howarth, a CEP member and occupational and environmental physician from the University of Pennsylvania will assist in the analysis of any patterns of health risks and how to incorporate exposure data into the analysis. 

The final report will be geared towards the community to help them understand the effects of these industries on their neighborhood and their health. It would also be a valuable tool for regulators, permitting agencies, and policymakers to use in understanding the broader impacts of their work. Currently, data on emissions and health risks in Chester is either out-of-date or not standardized. An updated, comprehensive analysis of emissions will help the Chester community plan their next steps.


The project will start immediately once we find a scientist and begin meetings to outline a feasible timeline. 

  • October 2021 – identify scientist  
  • Late October 2021 – finalize timeline
  • November 2021 – begin data collection  

Project Team

Community Leads

The community leaders on the project are the Rev. Dr. Horace Strand of the Chester Environmental Partnership (CEP) and Dr. Marilyn Howarth of the University of Pennsylvania.

Dr. Strand has been working with the Chester community to block waste facilities in Chester for over thirty years and currently convenes the CEP to bring together industries and communities in resolving the health impacts of these environmental hazards. 

Dr. Marilyn Howarth is an environmental physician at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Environmental Toxicology and a member of the CEP.  Her work centers on environmental justice and the impacts of environmental pollutants.


Communtiy Science Fellow

Gayatri Girirajan is a graduate of ASU’s School of Geographic Sciences and Urban Planning with a B.A. in geography, urban planning, and geographic information systems. She got her start with the Doris Duke Conservation Scholars Program, where she studied the intersections of environmental science, racial justice, and resource management across the Southwest. Subsequently, she worked with the Kyl Center for Water Policy to assess Arizona cities’ water supply portfolios, and with the Grand Canyon Trust’s initiative to support the Havasupai tribe in protecting the Grand Canyon from uranium mining. Gayatri’s current dream is to help communities build resilience against climate disaster through land restoration.

Scientist Wanted

The community leaders are looking for a scientific partner specializing in air pollution who can collect emissions data to create a cumulative model of emissions in the area.

The scientist will design a project to collect data on air particulate and hazardous air pollutant levels emitting from each facility with assistance from the community. They will use their findings to create a composite map of collective emissions, and then strategize with community leaders to identify particular health risks based on their findings. They will write up their findings in a final report. 


Desired Skills and Expertise

  • Experience with air quality data collection and modelling
  • Experience with designing a scientific study  
  • Ability to identify relevant points of research  amongst a wide array of data points
  • Ability to translate research and data into communications for the general public
  • Experience and/or desire to participate in community education, outreach, and engagement
  • Experience with citizen science 
  • Writing skills 
  • Strong listening and collaboration skills
  • Willingness to connect science to local concerns
  • The scientist should be able to visit the community in person
  • The scientist should not be a student 


Thriving Earth Exchange asks all scientific partners to work with the community to help define a project with concrete local impact to which they can contribute as pro-bono volunteers and collaborators. This work can also position the scientists and communities to seek additional funding, together, for the next stage.

Interested in volunteering as a scientist? Apply now!