Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL, pronounced "circle") is a local grassroots community organization that has been leading the fight for environmental justice in Chester since 1992, under the leadership of Chester resident, Zulene Mayfield.The group formed in response to residents' concerns about the overwhelming number of waste facilities being built in Chester, namely Covanta, one of the largest trash incinerators in the county, which opened directly next to a populated city neighborhood in 1992. The group led several successful campaigns to shut down different polluting industries and held many public hearings and meetings to empower and educate residents on the aggravating effects of pollution on health. Early on the campaign, CRCQL formed an alliance with the Campus Coalition Concerning Chester (C-4) which brought together students on 15 campuses across five states to support the environmental justice campaign in Chester. Together these groups organized and fought off several different incinerator and waste treatment facilities from operating in Chester (see timeline). CRCQL was also the first activist group to use the Civil Rights Act in an environmental racism lawsuit against the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). In 2007, CRCQL partnered with Delco Alliance for Environmental Justice (DAEJ), a network established to advance environmental justice campaigns across Delaware County by providing the tools, support and education on the critical issue of industrial pollution, waste management and long-term health effects. Together CRCQL and DAEJ stopped the world's largest tire incinerator from locating in Chester in 2007. In 2014, residents decided to reorganize under the name “Chester Environmental Justice” to fight Chester City’s approval of local infrastructure to facilitate the flow of trash from Manhattan under a 20-30-year contract between Covanta and New York City. This was promised to bring trash by train instead of by truck, but actually involves NYC waste going through Chester by train to Wilmington, then back into Chester by trucks to burn at Covanta. Zulene continues to be a valiant leader on the front lines in Chester, despite facing harassment from the industry. Using non-violent direct action tactics, and a fearless commitment to the Truth, she is determined to reveal the systemic racism that continues to impact the quality of life in Chester. In fact, she doesn’t consider herself an environmental activist, but merely a resident who is fed up with the pollution, corruption and injustice in the Chester community. Over the years, CRCQL’s has received continuous harassment from industry employees- the headquarters office has been broken into, vandalized with racist symbols and slogans, tires have been slashed and there was an arson attempt on Zulene’s home.
In 2020, CRCQL relaunched a new strategic campaign, in partnership with C-4 and DelCo Alliance for EJ, to demand that Covanta shut down its toxic operations on the Chester waterfront, fend off other polluters from locating to Chester, and advocate for zero waste initiatives.
CRCQL Founder & DirectorZulene Mayfield is the driving force behind Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living with a goal to ensure that families in Chester live free from polluting industries.She founded CRCQL in 1992 in response to the the a large trash incinerator that moved in just a block down from her neighborhood. Despite personal attacks, hostility and pushback from industry groups and politicians, she remained committed to fighting for environmental justice for the health of her family and all those living within the shadow of the plant. Through court testimony, letter writing and working with other advocacy groups, the group was successful in fending off other polluting industries from operating in their neighborhood. She brought to light the environmental racism and discriminatory practices of locating polluting industries into areas of poverty and color. CRCQL was the first civil group in history to use the Civil Rights Act in defense of environmental racism. Zulene's dedication to quality of life in Chester has be recognized by many across the county and locally with the NAACP Sojourner Truth Award and the City of Chester.
Executive Director, Energy Justice Network
Mike Ewall is the founder and director of Energy Justice Network, a national support network for grassroots community groups fighting dirty energy and waste industry facilities such as coal power plants, ethanol plants, natural gas facilities, landfills and incinerators of every sort. He has been actively involved in student and community environmental justice organizing since high school in 1990. He's taught hundreds of workshops at college campuses and activist conferences throughout the U.S. His grassroots support work has helped many communities achieve victories against power plants, landfills, incinerators, medical waste facilities and other polluting industries.