"They had been invaded by solid waste," said Strand, 59, pastor at the Faith Temple Holy Church in Chester.
Strand helped found Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL) to address the clustering of five waste-treatment centers and transfer stations in the predominantly black community. As a result of the efforts by Strand's group, traffic was routed to a new entrance on a newly constructed, nonresidential street.
The group didn't stop there.
It sued the state in a landmark civil rights case that reached the U.S. Supreme Court before the state denied a permit for a waste-treatment plant Strand's group opposed.
On Monday, Strand will receive a local "Drum Major for Justice Award" for his tireless efforts to combat environmental racism in Chester. The award will be presented at 10 a.m. at the Church of the Overcomer in Trainer as part of its Martin Luther King Day celebrations.
The Rev. Keith Collins, who will make the presentation, said Strand was a catalyst for change. The pastor was not content to listen to the choir, preach the sermon, and stay within the confines of the sanctuary, he said.
"He amplified the voice of those people," Collins said.
Strand, who had five brothers and six sisters, grew up in Chester. As the baby in the close-knit family, Strand learned how to navigate, negotiate, fight - and run when necessary, he joked.
Those experiences, he said, "made me the man I am."
At 17, Strand said he lied about his age and joined the Marine Corps.
After his service, Strand married Doreen Shubrick, earned his degree at the Faith School of Theology in Maine, and settled back in Chester to raise three children.
He portrays himself as an accidental environmentalist.
He said he wasn't moved to act until he saw the physical effects residents suffered from the commercial-waste facilities and encountered elected officials who "did not look out for the interests of the residents."
"There was no representation at all," Strand said.
In 2005, Strand formed the Chester Environmental Partnership, a watchdog group that works with the Environmental Protection Agency, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and organizations that advocate for health and living conditions in and around Chester.
In 2009, the partnership teamed with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network to block plans to transport polluted water from natural-gas drilling operations in the Marcellus Shale region to Chester, treat it, and release it into the Delaware.
"We went to war," Strand said. The state Department of Environmental Protection rescinded the permit.
"Chester would be an environmental wasteland without Rev. Strand," said State Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D., Delaware). Kirkland and Strand grew up in the same neighborhood and have remained friends.
"He has raised the awareness when it comes to environmental issues, environmental justice, and the health care of our community," Kirkland said.
Strand is driven by his passion and succeeds because of his perseverance, Kirkland said.
"He literally fought to make sure our community is taken care of - and taken care of properly," Kirkland said.