Monday, July 25, 2011

Environmental Racism on Display in Harlem

Last week highlighted the environmental racism endured in Harlem. Harlem's waste water treatment plant, which collects sewage from all over Manhattan and the Bronx, caught fire and dumped raw sewage into the Hudson River in Harlem.

Harlem and Environmental Racism

Harlem is a community composed primarily of people of color. It is a low-income community, and a community dominated by residential properties.

Harlem is also a community that demonstrates the impact of environmental racism.

The waste water treatment plant on the west side of Harlem between 137th Street and 145th Street is the destination for all sewage (every flushed toilet) for the entire western half of Manhattan and for the Riverdale section of the Bronx. Harlem is treated as the toilet of Manhattan and the Bronx.

Harlem is the bus depot capital of Manhattan. Of the eight bus depots in Manhattan, seven are located north of 96th Street.  Bus depots centralize air pollution, noise pollution, and vehicular traffic in one area. Bus drivers often have to keep their engines running during the winter to prevent their fuel from freezing, thereby increasing the pain inflicted on the Harlem community.

For many years, Manhattan's trash all landed on the west side of Harlem. Starting early this century, New York City's trash was shifted to Newark, New Jersey, and Harlem ceased to be the destination of Manhattan's trash. Therefore, Harlem was the capital of sewage, trash, and bus depots.

Fire Sends Sewage into the Hudson River

Last week, flames shot 30 feet in the air at the water treatment plant on the west side of Harlem. Raw sewage was sent into the Hudson River, and sun bathers at beaches in some parts of New York City were told to avoid the water. This is the ultimate impact of environmental racism: the sewage from many communities was dumped into Harlem's waters.

The water treatment plant is below Riverbank State Park. We have written about the need for Riverbank Park to be focused on Upper Manhattan residents. Riverbank Park has, at times, been provided to private schools from far away, and Harlem residents have been excluded. The release of raw sewage into Harlem's waters highlights the need to ensure that the benefits of Riverbank Park are focused on Harlem residents; Harlem residents are the focus of the health risks and challenges of being the toilet for the rest of Manhattan.

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