We established the Henry Meigs Youth Leadership Award in 2005 as a memorial tribute to one of our center’s founders. The award honors students who have demonstrated exceptional leadership, interest, curiosity, or accomplishment in the environmental arena. While nominations were solicited in prior years, the Center held an essay contest to determine this year’s recipient, a contest open to students at Roxborough’s three public high schools– Lankenau Environmental Science Magnet High School, Walter B. Saul High School, and Roxborough High School– with the winner receiving a $1,000 scholarship gift.
Candidates submitted essay responses to the prompt “What is the biggest environmental threat to our city and why? What can you do as an individual to make a difference? What can our community do collectively to solve this issue?”
The winning essay was written by Adrianna Lewis, a Roxborough resident and senior at Lankenau High School. Adrianna will graduate this year and is preparing to study environmental science at Delaware Valley University in the fall. She hopes to one day research solutions to help Philadelphia to mitigate the effects of climate change, as well as reduce our contribution to it. We were excited to announce Adrianna as the recipient of the award at Naturepalooza, our annual Earth Day festival, last Saturday. Congratulations to Adrianna; her essay follows:
The biggest environmental threat to our city is air pollution. This factors into the health of the city as well. Philadelphia, like other major cities, generates tons of air pollution. The primary driver of this is vehicle emissions. The Covid-19 pandemic halted most social interactions, especially within the city. Center City Philadelphia, also known as downtown among locals, is home to many businesses. Looking at the skyline, there are plenty of skyscrapers, housing thousands of offices. Many employees of these businesses drive into the city for work. Daily commuters are the driving factor of air pollution in the city, pun intended. The city can not stop this commute as it generates most of Philadelphia’s revenue, other than tourism and college.
Why is the air pollution in Philadelphia such a big deal? Air pollution in Philadelphia includes carbon and nitrogen emissions, specifically from motor vehicles. The use of fossil fuels causes the production of carbon dioxide and other carbon-containing pollutants, as well as nitrogen and nitrates. When exposed to sunlight, some nitrogen oxides can convert into volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene that can later meet with nitrous oxide and create ozone in the atmosphere. There are also carbon, chlorine, and fluorine-containing molecules (CFCs) typically used in aerosol containers and air conditioners. Although CFCs are banned worldwide, freon used in air conditioning systems can release CFCs into the atmosphere.
What do these things do as air pollutants? What are the effects on Philadelphia as a city? Carbon and nitrogen emissions are harmful to the environment and humans. Carbon emissions are mostly found in the form of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is known for its climate-changing effect. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which is known to form a cozy blanket around the earth and trap heat in the atmosphere. Methane, another greenhouse gas, is less prevalent in the atmosphere but is more harmful than carbon dioxide. Another producer of these air pollutants in Philadelphia are landfills/garbage processing plants. These like the other air pollutants are an issue in Philadelphia as they cause climate change and amplify the heat island effect. The heat island effect causes the temperature in the city to be greater than in the surrounding area.
What can change air pollution in the city of Philadelphia? As individuals, people should use public transportation whenever possible. Philadelphia has SEPTA and Amtrak if you are traveling outside of the city. Individuals could also help plant trees to combat the increase of CO2. As an individual, you can join an environmental group within Philadelphia or support local small businesses and farms to reduce your carbon footprint. Supporting these local businesses and farms would reduce the number of people traveling for resources. There are over 25 farmers’ markets in Philadelphia, a number of them accept SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). Access to these farmer’s markets may be harder for those in underserved areas such as North Philadelphia.
As a community, the people of Philadelphia can make a difference by petitioning the city to be more walkable. Better access for pedestrians on Philadelphia streets would reduce the number of cars used. We could improve accessibility for disabled people within the Philadelphia area, so they wouldn’t have to commute into the city. The downtown area could also become more affordable so people would not have to commute into the city every day. To reduce air pollution from landfills, we could begin to compost all of our non-meat and dairy items, then send this compost to the farming community in and around Philadelphia. Our glass, once cleaned, can be sent to a facility where it’s made into sand and poured onto beaches. This is a must as people have begun “sand gangs” where sand is stolen and sold on the market for concrete and other such uses. The alternative to using this glass for beach sand, the glass sand could be used for construction sand. Further ways Philadelphia as a community could aid in the reduction of air pollution is making farmers’ markets accessible to all or selling produce from local farms at corner stores.
Philadelphia has an air pollution issue and we the people can reduce it.
By Aaliyah Green Ross, Director of Education