Clean Air Matters

Community Collaboration Unveils Comprehensive Plan to Tackle Air Pollution in Southeast Michigan

Report documents collaborative efforts to use monitors, data, outreach to advocate for right to clean air 

DETROIT — Today, a group of eight environmental and community-based organizations released a comprehensive plan to address air pollution in the region. “From Air Pollution to Solutions: Collaborative Planning for Clean Air In Detroit & Wayne County” includes shared policy priorities, recommendations for a region-wide community-based air monitoring network, and communication strategies to address air pollution and protect public health. The goal is for regulators to consider cumulative impacts, the totality of health hazards a community is subject to, and not to regulate each polluter as if the others didn’t exist.

Detroit and other Wayne County municipalities suffer from some of the highest incidents in the nation of poor air quality and asthma. The University of Michigan estimates there are 721 premature deaths in Detroit each year from exposure to pollution. 

“My community in southwest Detroit has been deemed the most polluted in Michigan due to more than 42 major and minor polluting source industries nearby,” said Theresa Landrum, Southwest Detroit 48217 resident. “This collaboration and our report are both steps towards realizing our right to breathe clean air. The report is a tool we can use as we engage elected leaders and regulators in our fight for basic justice when it comes to health.”

“As with other environmental hazards, some communities are subjected to much higher levels of air pollution than others,” said Jamesa Johnson Greer, executive director of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition. “This is a direct result of historical practices of racial discrimination, such as redlining, discriminatory land use practices, and systemic disinvestment in infrastructure. Our ultimate goal is to reverse these environmental injustices so everyone is afforded the same opportunities and quality of life.”

The group’s primary policy focus is implementing statewide cumulative impact policies that would mandate that permitting decisions for new facilities include a cumulative impact and racial disparity analysis. This means considering all sources of pollution in the area and the historic pollution burdens nearby communities face and making decisions that protect communities from additional environmental burdens.

“Our goal is to support people’s health by upgrading the protections for clean air, which, at the moment, are shockingly weak. We have to undo some deadly combinations: weak protections, weak enforcement, and a lot of air pollution sources, from stationary industrial polluters to heavy-weight trucks,” said Kathryn Savoie, director of Equity and Environmental Justice at the Ecology Center, and a convenor of the collaborative. “We live with and near industry, and that means when it comes to industrial pollution, human health must be the priority. Industry has to serve human needs without creating hazards to human health. We have to strike a balance that protects us all.” 

To date, the collaboration has already installed dozens of neighborhood-level air monitors with the ultimate goal of developing a region-wide, neighborhood-level air quality monitoring network. The group also plans to provide community-wide education on air quality, how it impacts human health, and solutions to address the crisis. 

This report is the result of a 2022 collaborative planning process led by the following groups: Concerned Residents for South Dearborn, Ecology Center, Georgia Street Community Collective, Green Door Initiative, Just Air, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, Original United Citizens of Southwest Detroit (48217), and Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision. Our collective work is rooted in the belief that breathing clean air is a basic human right that should be protected by local, state, and federal policy.