Sierra Club report: Pollution hits southeast Michigan's poor hardest

Apr 5, 2013

The Marathon oil refinery in Detroit
The Marathon oil refinery in Detroit

Detroit and its downriver suburbs have some serious pollution problems.

And according to a new Sierra Club report, the greatest effects fall on poor, largely non-white communities.

The report deals with environmental justice in southeast Michigan—the idea that poor, minority communities tend to shoulder the burdens of pollution.

It details toxic emissions from six major sources in and around Detroit—five of which are clustered in the downriver area.

Sierra Club organizer Rhonda Anderson says the effects of pollution are substantial there. “It’s having a detrimental impact on the residents…in the form of cancers, asthma, heart disease, all kinds of things,” she said.

Though most of the toxic emissions from these point sources fall within legal guidelines, Anderson says their combined effects need to be considered, too.

“No one is considering the cumulative impact,” Anderson said. “What type of impact is that having on the environment…but more important to us, what is the impact on the residents that live there?”

A recent University of Michigan study found a southwest Detroit zip code, 48217, is the state’s most polluted--and among the worst in the nation.

Anderson says the Sierra Club wants regulatory agencies—like the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality—to consider overall pollution burdens and environmental justice in their decision-making.

The group is also taking some legal action. The Sierra Club is suing DTE Energy right now for alleged Clean Air Act violations at four coal-fired plants—including one in River Rouge, which is one of the main emissions sources near Detroit.

Anderson says they’ll “likely” file a suit against the Marathon oil refinery in southwest Detroit, too. That facility recently expanded to accommodate more oil from the controversial Alberta tar sands.