NJ Spotlight News

NJ - Op-Ed: Delaware River pollution should be a national concern

Call for clean water, justice and jobs in environmental justice communities like Camden, Chester, Philadelphia and Wilmington

Perhaps nowhere in the nation are the issues of environmental, social and economic inequities and injustice more evident than in a 27-mile stretch of the Delaware River valley bordered by the cities of Camden, Chester, Philadelphia and Wilmington.

Our country faces a series of challenges that have exposed long-standing vulnerabilities to the health of our environment, our communities and our democracy. In addition, the American Society of Civil Engineers recently graded our nation’s drinking water infrastructure a C- and its wastewater infrastructure a D+, which represents entirely inadequate protection of the public health and the environment.

And, unfortunately, a significantly disproportionate burden of this infrastructure inadequacy directly impacts environmental justice communities such as Camden, Chester, Philadelphia and Wilmington. We believe very strongly that everyone, regardless of where they live and what they look like, is entitled to safe drinking water and clean waterways. Yet, the 27-mile stretch of the Delaware River that flows past these cities is the only section of this 300-mile river not designated for direct water contact by government agencies. This is caused by chronic overflows from antiquated combined sewer systems which — during normal rain events — can push raw sewage into the streets, homes, parks and neighborhoods of these environmental justice cities, as well into the river. This is not only a public health and environmental problem, but also a social justice problem. No one, no matter where they live or what they look like, should have to worry about their basement backing up with sewage when it rains, or their children walking through puddles of sewage to get to their bus stops.

The Biden administration and Congress are currently developing a national infrastructure spending plan. It is on the order of billions, if not trillions, of dollars to be invested in finally upgrading our crumbling national infrastructure, mostly discussing roads, bridges and energy. The funding package must also consider and provide dollars for clean water, justice and jobs in overburdened communities — and several do. Federal investment in cleaning up the pollution of the Delaware River adjacent to Philadelphia, Chester, Wilmington and Camden should be a high and immediate priority. Such an investment, long overdue, can bring equitable improvements in the quality of life, remove some of the unjust pollution burdens facing riverfront communities, and spark economic development, jobs and business creation.

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