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November 05, 2014 - Image 12

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 2014-11-05

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far with the progress. Additionally, he said
educating University students is a key
part of ensuring solutions for the
"We stand on the shoulders
of those who came before us
and so I offer my shoulders
for those who would like
to stand on them," he said.
"When you have the ear of
a bunch of 'world-changers,'
what Imean is those students,
their future's not defined yet
and so we're going to help instill
something that is based in justice

portation, education, or envi
tion," Farley said. "The subu
went their own way and com
and ... city-suburban dispute
nasty Black-white disputes."
In 2013, Sierra Club Detr
environmental pollution in th
rights abuse" and "environ
Grassroots organizations, s
Working for Environmental.
on initiatives to improve un
"Given the contamination
environments, these commu


of ast
ED I TOR5rolog
birth r
Club r

arly on a Saturday, students and faculty
boarded a bus outside the University's
School of Public Health. The destination
- Detroit.
However, this group wasn't going to visit the
tourist hotspots. While Eastern Market and the
Renaissance Center were on the itinerary, these
participants had signed up to see some of the
most polluted and industrialized areas of the
city, hear about the historic factors thatbrought
the city to its current state and to learn about
the public health concerns for residents in these
"Detroit's a challenging place - it's an inter-
esting place," said Sociology Prof. Reynolds Far-
ley, one of the trip leaders for the 2014 Tour of
Toxic Sites, sponsoredby the University's Center
for Occupational Health and Safety Engineering.
For better or worse, the city has for decades
been used as a case study for some of society's
most serious economic and social concerns.
From the collapse of the auto industry to the his-
tory of racial tensions, academicsuse Detroit as a
model for other similar U.S. cities.
The annual tour seeks to provide future pub-
lic health and social justice workers with a first-
hand look at contemporary issues, reflecting
the University's growing involvement - both
academically and socially - in the city in recent
As thebus and its 30to 40passengers left Ann
Arbor, Farley began discussing the impact of the
city's history on the current environmental con-
The rise ofanindustrial giant

Founded as a trading post in the early 16th
century, Detroit saw significant population and
industrial growth starting in 1855 with the com-
pletion of two major projects - a railroad con-
necting the city to New York and Chicago and
the completion of the locks at Sault Ste. Marie,
putting Detroit in the position to utilize Michi-
gan's industrial resources - white pine, iron ore
and copper - to become an industrial power-
The Civil War spurred demand for such
industrial products, and the city grew from a
population of 21,000 in 1850 to almost 300,000
by 1900..
The industrial boom marked the start of
major pollution problems in the city and region.
Long before the era of government regula-
tion and oversight, manufacturers often simply
dumped industrial waste into the Detroit River
or let it soak into the ground around the plants
that produced them. Some of those toxic effects
can stillbe felttoday.
But any industrial 'boom' of the 19th century
pales in comparison with the growth of industry
in the early 20th century as Detroit gave birth to
the U.S. auto industry. The 'Big 3' automakers -
Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler - all set up
shop in the city.
In 1917, Ford Motor Co. began construction
on its River Rouge Complex, the single larg-
est industrial complex in the world at the time.
At its height, it employed more than 100,000
workers and still operates in a limited capac-
ity today, though it was sold by the Ford family
and has been downsized due to environmental
restrictions. The company now operates several
modern plants in the surrounding area and in

Dearborn.Accordingto the Sierra Club, anation-
al environmental preservation group founded
in 1892, these plants produced over 600,000
pounds of toxic pollutants in 2010, contributing
the "largest burden of environmental pollution"
in Detroit.
General Motors opened a Cadillac assembly
plant near Mexicantown in 1921 and later relo-
cated to their Detroit/Hamtramck Assembly
facility north of the city in 1985. The company
purchased the iconic waterfront Renaissance
Center in 1996 toserve asits worldheadquarters.
According to the Sierra Club, the Hamtramck
facility produced over 180,000 pounds of toxic
releases and over 240,000pounds of other waste
in 2010.
Farley noted that recognizing the city's his-
tory is vital to understanding its continuing
"People don't spend a whole lot of time think-
ing about cities and how the history of cities,
when homes were built and factories were built,
how that influences the present," Farley said.
"But, they're open to thinking about it;they seem
to be interested."
The grassroots movement
After a brief tour of downtown and lunch at
Eastern Market, students and faculty boarded
the Toxic Tour bus for the main event - alook
at some of the most polluted and industrialized
areas of the city.
Charles Stokes works for Detroiters Work-
ing for Environmental Justice, an organization
partnered with the University's School of Public
Health, andjoined the bus tours to provide stu-_

dents with context from a local resident's per-
Stokes highlighted the pollution in Detroit as
an environmental justice issue. In his position,
he works as an organizer spreading the word
to afflicted neighborhoods about the dangers of
various toxic sites and unite people to pressure
the city to make changes.
Among the many locations on the tour's itin-
erary were the Rouge Steel Plant, the Marathon
Oil refinery, and the waste treatment plant.
Stokes explained how these locations contribute
to carbon dioxide levels and other forms of air
pollution, as well as producing harmful indus-
trial byproducts, such as petroleum coke, during
the process of refining raw tar sands - mostly
imported from Alberta, Canada - into oil.
The tour also visited the Detroit municipal
waste incinerator, a contentious topic in the
city for years and known forits infamous smell.
Stokes organized area residents to continu-
ally file odor complaints against the incinerator
based on reports that the smell has caused peo-
ple to feel nauseous and, in some cases, become
more seriously ill.
Opened in 1986, the waste incinerator is the
largest of its kind in the U.S., accommodating
over 3,000tons of garbage on a daily basis. Along
with the long-standing debate over the plant's
odor, the facility also emits airborne substances,
such as nitrogen oxide, sulfur dioxide, and car-
bon monoxide, which have created public health
concernsin the community.
After the actions taken by residents and envi-
ronmental groups, Michigan's Department of
Environmental Quality brought suit against the
private company that now owns the incinerator.
In the past two weeks, the city passed a consent
agreement mandating the operators update the
incinerator's air ducts to reduce the odor within
two years or face a fine.
While the proceedings demonstrated the
ability of community groups to help rectify envi-
ronmental injustice in the city, the incinerator
is only one of many such facilities that are wor-
risome to residents. Stokes said there is still
plenty of work to be done, but that he is proud so


equality and participation of all peoples."
Environmental injustice
Historically, industry and residential areas
of Detroit were built in close proximity to one
another, as this made the most sense for work-
ers who needed to commute. Despite a modern
understanding of the environmental concerns
today, Farley said it can be difficult both politi-
cally and financially to relocate people away
from pollution sites.
Instead, residents and grassroots organizers
are working to have industry more strictly regu-
lated. So far, the results are mixed, as facilities
such as the Marathon Refinery have pledged to
reduce emissions, while at the same time con-
tinuing to increase their facility's output.
According to a report from the Detroit Alli-
ance for Asthma Awareness, rates of asthma in
the city are three times the national average.
Some have argued that Michigan's Department
of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environ-
mental Protection Agency could be doing more
to regulate industries.
Furthermore, the Sierra Club contends that
the environmental impacts are not evenly dis-
tributed among the state's population. Citing
research from Natural Resources Prof. Paul
Mohai, the report indicates that over 80 percent
of African-American students attend school in
the top decile of polluted areas in the state, as
opposed to 44 percent of white students.
At the start of the auto boom in the 1920s,
Detroit's population was over 95 percent white.
The middle class thrived under the plethora of
skilled manufacturing jobs. By the end of the
20th century, however, the demographics had
undergone a massive shift. In 2010, Blacks made
upover 82 percent of residents.
While middle-class workers had the ability to
move to the suburbs or leave the city entirely,less
advantaged groups were left to deal with the fall-
out ofyears of environmental degradation.
"There were no incentives to cooperate on
major issues, like economic development, trans-

in his area.
"The area's a dump, but
said. "I know there's a lot of t
At the community center
lines of smokestacks surroun
where children come for afte
The air smells of sulfur and g
"It's justbackground," Hu
ing the close proximity of the
But he said people in
the community are fighting
back, despite a seeming lack
of involvement from city
officials. As Hudson puts
it, people are "fighting for
their livelihood" and there
is an increasing effort to
hold government officials
accountable in remedying
the concerns.
In addition to industry,
Delray lies in the midst of
major trucking and ship-
ping routes near the U.S.
terminal for the Ambas-
sador Bridge, a major thor-
oughfare of U.S.-Canadian
economic trade. As many
as 9,000 trucks pass these
checkpoints each day.
The city has passed
anti-idling laws to pro-
hibit trucks waiting near
the bridge terminals from
contaminating surround-
ing neighborhoods with air
pollution, but these laws are
rarely enforced by police.
In addition, reports indi-
cate that the approach to
the Ambassador Bridge is
plaguedby delays.
Now, there are plans to
expand such operations by
opening a new bridge by
2020 to accommodate larg-

ronmental protec- er trade volume. While these expansions seek to environment are not the ones suffering from its
rban communities increase the flow of traffic along one of the most effects.
peted with the city important international trade rates, Hudson's The collapse of the auto industry and subse-
s often turned into house sits on land needed to build the U.S. cus- quent municipal bankruptcy have resulted in the .
tomsplaza. downsizing or closure of some of Detroit's most
oit referred to the He said the city plans to buy his house next iconic facilities - such as Ford's River Rouge
he city as a "human year. Motioning to an image on the wall of the plant - which are replaced with newer, decen-
mental injustice." community center, he said there were originally tralized production models. At the new Ford
uch as Detroiters plans to build a community for the displaced complex, environmental efforts are underway
Justice, have taken residents, but those plans fell through - the area to limit emissions and protect water sources.
derprivileged com- proposed for housing was deemed more appro- The new facilityboasts one of the largest"living"O-
priate for expanding industry. roofs" in the world, using natural grasses and
of their immediate As for his community, Hudson said he's plants to reduce the plant's energy consumption
nities have inordi- unsure if their efforts to garner aid from the city - a promising effort toward increasing environ-
high levels will yield results. mentally minded industry around the city.
"It's only a mat- Other companies have developed their own
ter of time before strategies for dealing with increasing environ-
I1 1 we know one way mental regulation.
or another whether In Oakwood Heights, a few residents are
they take our con- holding out against Marathon Petroleum Co.,
thma, cancer, neu- cerns seriously," he said. which has bought homes from over 300 residents
ical disorders and - paying an average of $65,000 per home - as
defects," the Sierra Neighborhood negotiations part of a plant expansion effort. By removing
eport stated. residents, the company can effectively increase,,,
y resident Forest It's no secret that Detroit made its mark as an its distance from residential areas, bypassing
acknowledged that industrial giant, and with industry comes pol- certain restrictions based around proximity to
is a major concern lution. However, as Detroiters argue, pollution homes.
in the city is no longer simply an environmental By simply refusing to sell their homes, these
I love it," Hudson concern, but a social disparity as well. residents have been thrust into the middle of a
oxic waste." The city's population has shrunk from nearly debate that will likely continue for years to come.
r where he works, two million at its height in the 1950s to about And, in a city that has historically faced some
d the soccer fields 700,000 today. Those that remain do so for a of the most impactful racial conflicts of mod-
r-school activities. variety of reasons - some feel loyal to the city ern U.S. history, the next chapter of such debate
arbage. while others lack the resources to move else- may not come in the form of protest and politi-
dson said, referenc- where. Regardless, the shifting demographics cal uprising, but inthe billows of smoke thathave
industry. mean that those responsible for creating a toxic longsymbolized Detroit's industrial might.

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