The stench from the sewage treatment plant behind her home is not as bad as it once was, before community protests and a citizens' lawsuit forced the county to spend millions of dollars to reduce the odors. But still, Lula Williams says, open the front door some days and, "Lord have mercy, you just can't breathe."
For 23 years, Williams has lived in front of that facility, around the corner from a licorice mulch plant, down the street from three scrap metal recyclers and within a few hundred yards of a radiation-contaminated Superfund site that languished for two decades before authorities cleaned it up.
Since the early 1990s, she also has seen the county's trash-to-steam incinerator move into her neighborhood, as well as a new fossil-fuel-burning power plant and a recycling facility. But when the St. Lawrence Cement Co. began building its new plant down the street a few years ago, the 74-year-old Williams decided it was time to start fighting back.
"This is a poor, black neighborhood, Hispanic and white," she said. "No other city or state that you go to would you find all this in it where residents live. You understand what I'm saying?" Williams' plight, like that of many people trapped in dirty factory air, illustrates how difficult it is to free neighborhoods from the legacy of industrial pollution, an Associated Press review found.
Williams is now president of South Camden Citizens in Action, a group that has waged a five-year legal battle against the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection for allowing the giant cement-grinding plant into their neighborhood. The uphill battle mirrors others in the country:
In Ponca City, Oklahoma, the Ponca Indian Tribe this year sued Continental Carbon Co., alleging that air pollution from its plant is endangering children and the elderly. The company denies the allegations. The city also has sued Continental, contending that emissions have left the town covered with black soot.
In suburban Detroit, the cities of Ecorse and River Rouge have filed suits against U.S. Steel Corp., alleging pollution from one of the company's plants is harming the health of residents and eroding real estate values. A U.S. Steel spokesman says the company has spent millions to correct environmental problems it inherited when it took over the bankrupt plant in 2003, reports the AP. N.U.