A child living in Nicetown is four times more likely to have asthma than the average American child, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Local community members and environmental groups believe the health problems are only going to get worse once a natural gas power plant is built in their community.
The $26.8 million plant, which was approved in November, will be located next to the existing Midvale Bus Depot and will help power SEPTA’s regional rail system north of Wayne Junction.
Nicetown is already plagued by pollution problems. It is in the bottom 22 percent of the country in fine particle pollution, which is widely attributed to cardiovascular, respiratory, and numerous other health problems, according to the EPA.
350 Philadelphia, a local environmental group that opposes the power plant, claims the already polluted Nicetown area will suffer greatly from its emissions.
“Our position is that even a small level of pollution is not acceptable seeing what the people are already experiencing,” Mitch Chanin, a group spokesman, said.
The science is tricky though, natural gas plants do not contribute strongly to fine particle pollution. Instead they create ultrafine particles which are far less understood and not regulated by the EPA. They are generally regarded as a risk to human health, but the extent is unknown, according to Chanin.
“We don’t feel that we can quantify the potential harm of ultrafine particles because we don’t have enough data,” Chanin said. “But there’s reason to be concerned.”
Multiple EPA studies claim that ultra fine particles contribute to adverse health effects, some even saying they are worse than fine particles. According to 350 Philadelphia, SEPTA is taking advantage of the lack of concrete information.
“The response from SEPTA to our concerns about ultrafine particles was that the science wasn’t settled so they are not going to do anything,” Chanin said.
Local residents like Benayah Benyehudah believe the plant will be making a bad situation worse.
“A normal thing in black communities is to have respiratory issues and asthma,” he said. “Almost everyone I see has some sort of respiratory issue.”
He is looking to combat the poor air by planting more trees and adding air filtering devices around his house.
“It’s unfortunately coming to that,” Benyehudah said. “I’m looking down the line and seeing that this situation will not be stopped.”
– Text and Images by Dan Leer