Sierra Club: Air Monitoring and Energy Justice in 48217

I felt it was important to share a project that summarizes the past and ongoing efforts made by regional environmental organizations in Detroit, working to fix the mass pollution in Southwest Detroit.

It is evident that in Detroit– particularly in minority communities– there are disproportionate amounts of neurological, physical, and environmental problems, less disease management and access to care, and more socio-economic hardship. The report discusses how the 48217 zip code of Southwest Detroit has experienced industrial air pollution for decades (over 50 sites of heavy industry in and around the area). Beyond the neurological issues that arise, due to air pollution, residents of the 48217 zip code experience higher rates of asthma than citizens do in other areas of the city and the state, as well as malodors and noise.

In collaboration with a member of the local Sierra Club, Rhonda Anderson (my boss), and two researchers from the University of Michigan, the Air Monitoring Committee developed a list of pollutants to measure as well as a list of 12 possible locations for the air monitoring station. From there, MDEQ narrowed the list of potential locations down to four, and the committee reached out to the owners, two of whom did not respond, and one of whom declined. Ultimately, The New Mount Hermon Missionary Baptist Church became the host of the station.

The yearlong monitoring project started in September 2016. The air monitor measured levels of three types of acids, 66 polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), 67 volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and 13 metals every six days. It sampled levels of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and sulfur dioxide (SO2) on a continuous basis. Results from the study show that all pollutants measured were below state or federal health limits, (meeting EPA and MDEQ safety standards), with the exception of sulfuric acid*.  Carcinogenic pollutants–namely, arsenic, naphthalene and hexavalent chromium– had a cumulative lifetime risk with a higher average than in most other areas. MDEQ plans to continue sampling for fine particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, and five metals through 2018.

Overall, the project and the Air Monitoring Committee is an example of citizens affected by environmental injustice taking evidence and data collection into their own hands. They are showing the State what is going on in their community and seeking to build a narrative where they are the heroes of their own future. By providing data on air pollution created by surrounding industry production, the project serves as a call to action for more renewable energy and energy justice, showing the harmful side effects of toxic energy production to a person, a community, and to the environment at large. I have gone to visit the air monitor with the Sierra Club, and I believe there is still much that can be done to circumvent these issues (e.g, more data collection, partnerships with a state agency, and generally more advocation and awareness).

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