Laid to Waste
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.