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Point Breeze resident Alice Gabbadon made the announcement at the beginning of the meeting so everyone would know: The discussion set to follow about the South Philly refinery would not be about crime. It would not be about gentrification.
In Point Breeze, where community gatherings routinely turn into conflicts, Gabbadon and a new coalition called Green Justice Philly made their case Tuesday night for awareness and unity around the Philadelphia Energy Solutions refinery, located on the Schuylkill where West Passyunk Avenue ends. Where oil and gas executives and see the potential of an energy hub in Philadelphia, and about 30 South Philly residents who attended the meeting at Tasker Street Baptist Church saw a threat to the health of their community.
Nobody yelled. There was no divide. The names of Ori Feibush and John Longacre did not come up. Gabbadon believes this subject is perhaps something all residents of Point Breeze and similar South Philly neighborhoods like Grays Ferry and Packer Park can agree on.
“We all have a commonality in health,” Alice Gabbadon said. “We all want to live long.”
Many of the meeting’s attendees complained of breathing and heart problems they believe have been caused or exacerbated by the refinery.
That refinery has been a concern to some for years now. In 2012, it looked as though the refinery might close. But a recent modification in ownership from Sunoco to Philadelphia Energy Solutions, combined with the fracking boom in North Dakota, has it thriving again, consuming about 14 percent of the oil produced by the well-known Bakken formation in North Dakota. Trains carrying the crude oil pass by the Schuylkill and near neighborhoods like Point Breeze and Grays Ferry to the refinery every day.
Adam Corson-Finnerty, executive director of Philadelphians for Social Responsibility, presented in front of the audience, saying “clean air is good medicine” and polluted air can lead to health issues. He pointed out that Philly’s asthma rate for children under the age 18 is about 22 percent, more than double the national rate of about 9 percent. In poorer neighborhoods, the rate in Philadelphia is even worse. Corson-Finnerty pegged it as nearing 30 percent.
“We need to keep our politicians in the green direction,” he said, “and not be Houston on the Delaware.”
An aide for 2nd District Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, Steve Cobb, spoke at the meeting. He said Johnson and his staff would be open to listening to any concerns residents have about the refinery.
The next steps for Green Justice Philly are more community gatherings. They want to raise awareness. Other issues — like the crime and gentrification noted by Gabbadon — seem to be more at the forefront.
“That’s my concern,” said Helen Carter, who lives near 23rd and Snyder streets and said she has suffered from asthma and heart issues since moving to South Philly in 1985. “I don’t see anybody in my neighborhood out here aware of it in these communities.”
Gabbadon wants to simplify the message so everyone understand what she has perceived as a threat to Point Breeze for many years.
“I’ve seen a lot,” she said. “Smelled a lot.”