Haunted by an Industrial Future

 Illustrations by Kathleen White

Is a proposed petrochemical hub a devil’s bargain? The CEO Council for Growth says it is an opportunity for economic revitalization, while organized opposition throughout the city says it will drag us into our past. Must we choose between prosperity and pollution?

Philadelphia’s role as a vibrant manufacturing center faded decades ago, bringing both hardship and benefits. The loss of companies that employed hundreds of thousands of people was an economic blow, but also allowed the city to literally breathe a sigh of relief. Following a century of intense pollution, the shift away from heavy industry—as well as reduced use of coal, conservation, and technological improvements—contributed to a nearly 70 percent drop in toxic emissions in fewer than 20 years, from 1966 to 1985. Pollution levels have continued to fall since then.

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