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Laid to Waste

Laid to Waste - Image Produced by Robert Bahar,George McCollough.
52 min. Color. 1997.
Available as: VHS and DVD
Captioned: No
Catalog #: 0078
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Sale Price: $250.00 Buy VHS Buy DVD

Simply put, this acclaimed documentary is the best case study of environmental injustice and racism available on video. In the economically depressed, largely African-American "West End" of Chester, Pennsylvania, Zulene Mayfield lives next door to the fourth-largest trash-to-steam incinerator in the nation and a few doors away from a large processing facility for infectious and hazardous medical waste. The county's sewage treatment plant sits adjacent to her neighbors' homes a block away, and additional waste-processing facilities have been proposed for the community.

Daily, trucks from Pennsylvania, Delaware, and as far away as Virginia roll past homes on Chester's Second Street, delivering thousands of tons of waste. Residents believe that their lives are being disrupted, their health threatened, their community destroyed, and the very air they breathe dangerously polluted. A grassroots organization called Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL) has taken an active role in opposing the facilities and in publicizing the plants' impact on their community. Representatives of the waste-processing companies argue that their facilities are safe and that they bring much-needed jobs to Chester.

"Laid to Waste" documents a community's attempt to deal with the complex issues of environmental injustice. The story unfolds dramatically as the residents seek to discover and confront the forces that have chosen their community for such facilities. Though CRCQL receives threats and its office is vandalized, the group continues to protest and to challenge the waste industry. Ultimately, a controversy surrounding an obscure legal maneuver used by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court draws statewide attention to the situation, and brings the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee to Chester's West End to investigate allegations of corruption and collusion at the highest levels of government and the waste industry.

"Laid to Waste" is a must-see in any course dealing with environmental issues, urban studies, public policy, African American studies, sociology, or social problems. It was produced by Robert Bahar and George McCollough.


"I highly recommend this powerful video for classroom use. It exposes the ugly underbelly of environmental racism and is an excellent treatise on grassroots organizing and networking." -- Robert D. Bullard, Director, Environmental Justice Resource Center and Ware Prof. of Sociology, Clark Atlanta Univ., author of Dumping in Dixie: Race, Class and Environmental Quality

"A very moving and superb case study that highlights the plight of an indefatigable community leader as she mobilizes the community against what seem to be overwhelming odds." -- Michael Heiman, Chair, Environmental Studies, Dickinson College

"A devastating expose of environmental racism and an inspiring documentary of a community's determination to take control of its own destiny. The catch-22 of the politics of waste disposal in the State of Pennsylvania is balanced by the inspirational dedication of grassroots leadership. This is essential viewing for everyone committed to environmental justice." -- Donald K. Swearer, Charles and Harriet Cox McDowell Prof., Swarthmore College

"This filmed case study presents a microcosm of contemporary American social relations: environmental racism, development of grassroots leaders, coalitions that cross racial and ethnic divisions, the structure of political and corporate power, the impact of de-industrialization on old urban centers, and the will of a community to protect itself and survive. The camera allows the residents of Chester to relate their own story. This is an outstanding resource for classes in American studies and history, sociology, public policy, the environment, and law." -- Elizabeth Petras, Prof. of Sociology, Drexel Univ.


  • Natl. Educational Film Festival Award
  • World Population Film and Video Festival Award



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