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“What Racism Smells Like”

“Ravaged by Covid-19, Polluted Communities Demand Environmental Justice”

“Growing up in Newark’s South Ward, Kim Gaddy often struggled to breathe. When her asthma was at its worst and inhaling stung and failed to fill her lungs, she would wind up in the local emergency room. Gaddy spent considerably more time in the ER when her three children were young. They also grew up in the South Ward, where the children’s asthma rate is three times the national average. All of Gaddy’s kids — now 31, 20, and 16 — have asthma too, as did Gaddy’s parents, two of her brothers, and her first cousin, Louie Pigford. Pigford, who lived across Weequahic Park from her, died of asthma when he was in his 40s. So did Gaddy’s brother-in-law, Greg Shaheed Westry, who went to the porch of his house on Newark’s Vassar Avenue one summer night in 2004 hoping to catch his breath and instead collapsed. He died before the ambulance arrived.

Gaddy, who works as an environmental justice organizer for Clean Water Action of New Jersey, has spent much of her time since then trying to call attention to the absurd number of polluting plants in her neighborhood. Newark has 930 facilities permitted to release pollution, 87 of which have current violations.

“We have been fighting for clean air for decades,” Gaddy said as she drove slowly through the South Ward on a steamy July morning, past a lot where cars were being noisily flattened by a machine, a factory where plastic was being baled for recycling, and scrapyards filled with mounds of twisted, rusty metal, beyond which you could you could see the faint outline of the Manhattan skyline.”

Sharon Lerner reports for The Intercept August 8 2020.