Breathe Free Detroit Update: Riding for Climate and Rallying Community

The Detroit trash incinerator is still spewing toxic chemicals and harmful particles, so we’re still at work on the Breathe Free Detroit campaign, and it’s been an eventful autumn for campaign activities both in and out of the city. We’ve continued to raise donations, raise awareness of the facts, and raise the visibility of the movement.

After a summer of fundraising and training, Ecology Center staff members Kathryn Savoie and Jeff Gearhart rode 285 miles in the Northern Michigan Climate Ride after receiving over $8,500 in donations to support their ride and Breathe Free Detroit.  They bonded over shared experience and shared passion for the environment with new friends ranging from 20-somethings through 70-somethings, and they shared the Ecology Center’s work to shut down the Detroit incinerator with their fellow riders, who hailed from across the country.

It was a physical and emotional challenge for both, as well as an inspiring experience. Part of a cluster of riders near the back of the 90 rider caravan, Gearhart and Savoie managed nearly every hill without stopping to walk. "Kathryn and I were moved by people's willingness to support this and support us,” says Gearhart of the ride and of donors whose gifts made it meaningful. “We did this both with some faith that both we could do the ride and that people would step up and believe in it. It's great that both of those things happened."

"Not a race, the four-day ride was strenuous in length and often in terrain, but moderate in pace; in between hill climbs, they stopped to cool down and soak their muscles with daily swims in Lake Michigan."

September was also a major month back home in Detroit for our frontline organizers. Savoie and KT Andresky took part in a national strategy meeting for leaders working to shut down incinerators. Participants exchanged tactics for local action and developed approaches to use technology to support each other from afar. They attended the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition 2018 summit in Flint, sharing lessons and experiences with environmental justice activists from across the state. Andresky participated in City Council of Detroit’s Green Task Force Subcommittee meeting on recycling and waste reduction, supporting Zero Waste Detroit’s resolution introducing benchmarks for reducing solid waste.

Detroit City Council President Pro Tempore Mary Sheffield also hosted a town hall environmental meeting at which Breathe Free Detroit showed a large community turnout. Over 100 concerned neighbors made their presence felt in front of incinerator owners, other city business leaders, and their elected representative. BFD representatives expressed concern directly to Detroit Renewable Power’s COO Michael Marr about the incinerator’s old filters and their ineffectiveness at blocking particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter—known as PM10, for short. Marr cited compliance with Michigan’s minimum legal requirements and the function of human nose hairs as reasons he’s not concerned, even though other facilities across the nation are updating their filtration systems. (Fact check: human nose hairs can’t effectively block particles that small—things like soot, pollen, mold, and fine dusts—and EPA standards identify 10 micrometers as the threshold size for inhalable particles.) In the face of this dismissiveness, Detroiters’ message was clear: we won’t put up silently with this profit-motivated disregard for human health and well-being.

In late September and October, several community events took a lighter tone and rallied new activist allies. Andresky spoke at a Make Food Not Waste event at Eastern Market, presenting about incineration and the importance of elevating a compost plan to fight toxic exposure and climate change simultaneously. She presented to a group of 80 Wayne State Medical School students about the incineration-related causes and health effects, especially asthma, leading these future doctors’ patients to Detroit hospitals. In partnership with the East Michigan Environmental Council, she briefed sixteen emerging energy democracy youth leaders on the campaign. Those high schoolers canvassed for Breathe Free Detroit, distributing over 500 fact sheets to homes within a mile radius of the incinerator.

In another highlight, a Breathe Free Detroit party drew about 70 folks on a Wednesday night for an evening of performances, live art, local food, storytelling, and “knowledge drops” on zero waste, clean energy, voter rights, and just transitions. The event featured voter registration, anti-incinerator t-shirts, and a participant-created 8-foot-tall banner to be used for future events and marches. Rashida El Tlaib, the Ecology Center board member poised to become the United States’ first Muslim congresswoman, was in attendance. Andresky described the tone of the event as fun and invigorating, and she saw seeds of growth toward an incinerator-free, zero-waste future for Detroit: "The event was filled with young folks, to the end! It was amazing and energizing to see more young people starting to get involved and joining folks who've been involved since the beginning.”

We’re excited for the momentum continuing to accelerate around the fight for clean air in Detroit. If you want to support this fight, we encourage you to follow Breathe Free Detroit on Facebook and to keep an eye out for further information about an upcoming Town Hall on Nov. 16th, which Breathe Free Detroit will host in partnership with the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (GAIA).


Published on October 30, 2018