A little more than 50 years ago, Delores Leonard and her husband moved into their red brick ranch in Detroit.
“I selected it because the sun comes up over there in the morning and I was thinking about my flowers.”
They’ve raised their two kids here and now they have four grandchildren and five great-grandkids and they all live nearby.
But she says on any given day... she doesn’t know what she’ll smell when she steps outside.
“Sometimes it’s a kerosene odor. Sometimes it’s a horrible stench, like at a slaughterhouse. Sometimes, you’re out in public and people will say, ‘where do you live?’ And they’ll say,’ oh yes, I know that area, that stench, I don’t see how those people live there.’”
“There” is zip code 48217. It’s a corner of Southwest Detroit packed with heavy industry.
There’s the state’s only oil refinery, owned by Marathon Petroleum. The salt mine. The city’s wastewater treatment plant. DTE’s coal-burning power plant. Severstal Steel. And many more.
Delores Leonard grew up just a few streets over, in River Rouge. She remembers asking her dad why people were covering their cars with tarps.
“And he said it was because of the fallout, the pollution. Well, if they’re covering their cars so the paint pigmentation won’t peel, then what happens to the person who lives and who’s breathing all this stuff?”
Like Delores Leonard, a lot of people have lived here their whole lives.