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Report: Industrial pollution leads to higher risks of cancer for 7 New Castle County communities

Katie Peikes
Delaware Public Media
Michele Roberts and members of several environmental and community groups address the report.

A new report says seven New Castle County communities have a higher risk of developing cancers and respiratory illnesses due to environmental pollution around them.

Marshallton residents many of whom are poor and people of color are 33 percent more likely to get cancer than residents of Greenville, one of Delaware’s wealthiest addresses. Scientists say the main factor is they live less than a mile away from chemical facilities and hazardous waste sites.

The other communities affected are Belvedere, Cedar Heights, Dunleith, Newport, Oakmont and Southbridge.

Octavia Dryden, with Delaware Concerned Residents for Environmental Justice, said in Delaware, a lot of communities of color “carry the environmental burdens while the white communities reap benefits.”

“I think you all will agree with me that that needs to change. I think you will also agree that it’s never an easy task for change,” Dryden said.

Michele Roberts, the national co-coordinator for the Environmental Justice Health Alliance, has family that lived in some of the neighborhoods listed in the report. She says the pollution is killing people who live there.

“If you look at the sick and shut-in list, they’re growing larger and larger and larger and larger. We must put an end to that,” Roberts said.

Scientists recommend several ways to bring awareness to and end pollution in the seven communities. They say one way to prevent severe health risks is to require facilities to use safer chemicals and technologies. Another solution is adopting and enforcing strict motor vehicle emissions standards.

Wilmington City Councilman At-Large Samuel Guy says during his first stint as a councilman in the late 1990s, he told James Baker, the council president at the time, that he felt the city was not equipped to address environmental justice issues. Baker agreed to form a judiciary committee.

The committee worked to clean up some of the brownfield sites and deal with other hazardous waste issues. During that time, Guy also worked to pass a law in Wilmington that hazardous waste sites need to be registered.

However, the committee disbanded and although Guy tried to bring it back in 2016, the initiative lost by one vote.

“The biggest difficulty in this arena is to be able to come back to the government and find government support,” Guy said. “There’s too much money floating around for people not to support the issues."

It’s a step Guy says needs to be taken by the city.

The report was generated by a number of groups including the Union of Concerned Scientists and locally, Delaware concerned Residents for Environmental Justice.

Gretchen Goldman, the research director for the Center of Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said the center worked with the union and local communities to understand the impact and disparities compared to other communities in Delaware.

They compared data from the Environmental Protection Agency and mapped out where contaminants and the risks were. They also looked at the cumulative impacts of the exposure to pollutants.

“I have a young child and it makes me mad to think about children being exposed to these risks in such a disproportionate way, in a racist way,” Goldman said. “And it makes me angry that children are exposed to that and people shouldn't have to live in a way that those issues aren’t being addressed.”