EPA pilots outreach on toxic releases in South Philly

     South Philadelphia is home to some of the city's heaviest industry. (Kim Paynter, file)

    South Philadelphia is home to some of the city's heaviest industry. (Kim Paynter, file)

    Residents in South Philadelphia are getting one-on-one help learning about toxic chemicals released in their neighborhoods as part of an Environmental Protection Agency pilot program.

    EPA epidemiologist Carol Ann Gross-Davis has been sitting down in computer labs with residents, demonstrating how to find and interpret federal pollution reporting data for more than 650 chemicals.

    “A lot of the information has already been accessible through EPA’s website, however, if you don’t know what you’re looking for, it’s really difficult to navigate all the information that’s available,” Gross-Davis said.

    After focus-group meetings, Gross-Davis’s team developed a fact sheet highlighting chemical releases in South Philadelphia from the former Sunoco refinery and five other facilities.

    It shows that 11 percent of the chemicals released from the six sites in 2012 are carcinogenic.

    The EPA also created an interactive online map of Philadelphia showing registered chemical releases and brownfield and Superfund sites in relation to nursing homes, schools and hospitals.

    Lifetime Point Breeze resident Alice Gabbadon has long wondered how leaking from an old Army facility and odors from the former Sunoco refinery might impact her.

    She said though she still has questions about how she might explain the potential impacts of chemical releases to neighbors, after participating in the community workshop, she at least knows where she can turn for information.

    “I learned from that that there is research that we can do, (on) what companies pour out in the air, and how the city is really monitoring some of it,” Gabbadon said.

    Gross-Davis hopes the educational and planning documents online serve as a blueprint for community organizations around the country that want to do similar outreach.

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