Some may know of ‘Toxic Man – The Melvin Wade Story’ I wrote in 2012. It remains the book with two heads as some folks love reading his crazy story of rising from a poor kid to becoming a wealthy business man. Others hate the story because it doesn’t focus on those who were injured as a result of fighting the fire at his industrial plant. Or, they just don’t like it because it’s about Melvin Wade.
‘Beyond the Flames’ is the only book that details the victims of the Wade fire and that’s what a lot of folks would like to see more of. ‘Toxic Man’ is the only book about Melvin Wade and a lot of folks hate it and wish it was never written. Yet, in the Delco Library System there are 931 books on Hitler and they’re still writing more. Obviously, hate has a way of confusing things. (I’m actually writing this post in the library, so I know).
One of the main issues brought out in ‘Toxic Man’ is the huge contrast as to how industrial waste was viewed in 1978 compared to now. In fact, the tragedy that occurred at Front and Flower Streets in Chester was responsible for the creation of many of the environmental rules and laws that govern us today. In 1978, there was no Superfund and the EPA was a small government organization struggling to find relevance and funding.
One thing that hasn’t changed in 41 years since the Wade fire, Chester is still home to toxic polluters, probably much worse than in Wade’s day.
Yesterday, I got caught up in the vortex of an unexpected and unplanned day long experience dealing with the state of Chester’s environmental ills and injustices.
It started out early in the morning at breakfast with a Delaware County Council candidate in the upcoming election. We talked about everything from getting out the Chester vote, the Glen Mills situation, Chester’s trash incinerator, and creative programs to take advantage of Chester’s many opportunity zones.
In the early afternoon I stumbled into Mike Ewall at the Delaware County Historical Society lecturing to a group of ‘Environment, Politics, and Policy’ students from West Chester University. Somehow, I got sucked up into joining them on their Toxic Tour of Chester starting at Kimberly Clark and then down to Covanta. Since Mike and I had left our cars in downtown Chester, we sort of hitched a ride back while the students continued their tour.
Mike was scheduled to be on a panel at Widener University so I found myself following him there. From there he was giving another lecture at Swarthmore College. My day was already shot by then so I decided to follow him to Swarthmore.
You’ve often heard me say that I’m not a reporter, and it’s a good thing I’m not because some of the things I saw and heard yesterday would make for an award winning Pulitzer Prize long form article on issues surrounding environmental racism, justice, neglect, ignorance, lies, graft, legislation, ignorance, competition, confusion, and solutions.
There were no local reporters at any of the events but there was a film crew getting footage for a documentary and a reporter all the way from France representing Europe1. Yes, folks all the way in France are aware Chester is the poster child for environmental racism and justice.
The young West Chester University students seemed to enjoy getting a first hand close up look at 3 of the big Chester industrial polluters, but I’m not sure they expected to be met by a couple Chester police cars towards the end of their tour.
The ‘Widener Environmental Racism In Chester Panel’ discussion was as heated as it was informative. As polite as they tried to be, it’s obvious Mike Ewall’s Environmental Justice Network and the Chester Environmental Partnership organization are light years apart on their mission even though the organizations sound very similar in name and objective.
Swarthmore College hosted a DelCo Alliance for Environmental Justice meeting where Ewall shared his strategy and answered questions concerning the Chester trash incinerator. That event was well attended by folks from all over the county, including a sitting Delaware County Councilperson, who are all concerned about this huge issue going down in Chester. I was thrilled to see 3 residents of Chester in the room as a result of seeing my post announcing the event.
From 7:30am to nearly 9:00pm, I was the real Toxic Man of Chester. What a day!