Fog & pollutions

Air Quality

Air Pollution, Climate Change, & Environmental Justice

Fighting for justice and mitigating climate change by working to clean up dirty air in Southeast Michigan

In 1986, the world’s largest municipal trash-burning facility, the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Facility, opened in a downtown Detroit neighborhood. For decades, the incinerator emitted toxic lead and mercury, dangerous fine particulate matter, and cancer-causing dioxins. Other industrial giants quickly followed as the prospect of economic growth outcompeted neighborhood and environmental concerns.

Nearly 40 years later, the incinerator finally shut down–a huge community victory–but chemical manufacturing facilities, car manufacturing sites, and waste management facilities continue to blanket Detroit residents with their dirty, polluted air. Their heavy-weight trucks ram through the streets, further worsening air quality and amplifying the impacts of the climate crisis. And despite receiving repeated violations from the Michigan Department of Environment Great Lakes and Energy and advocacy maps detailing their combined impacts on resident health, their operations continue without hindrance.

The neighborhood surrounding the facility, inhabited mostly by low-income African American communities, has some of the highest asthma and lead poisoning rates in the state. 

The failure of our governmental agencies to protect community health and acknowledge the dangerous threats of the climate crisis is grossly unjust. To protect community health and address the climate crisis, the Ecology Center is working to clean up Michigan’s air and fight for environmental justice. 

To do so, we support community members, partners, and coalitions to advocate for clean air by closing heavy pollution sources and work to keep new polluters out of vulnerable communities. We are working to build a network of air monitors throughout the state to establish air quality baselines and identify pollution sources, educate community members on air quality and its impact on climate change to empower them to fight polluters in their neighborhoods, and share knowledge and best practices on addressing air pollution. 

Our recent projects and campaigns include:  

Breathe Free Detroit 

A community-led campaign to shut down a trash incinerator in Detroit

The Ecology Center supported community partners in shutting down the Detroit Renewable Power incinerator, which ceased operations in March 2019. The closure and impending razing of this polluting facility after more than three decades of grassroots activism is a major victory for clean air and environmental justice in Detroit. 

Learn more here

Community-Based Air Monitoring Network 

Launching community-hosted air monitors in Detroit & statewide 

In 2019, the Ecology Center launched a community-based science program to monitor air quality with low-cost air monitors. We work with schools, homeowners, and community partners throughout Michigan to install and generate local air quality data, which is used to educate students and community members.  

Learn more here

In partnership with many community-based organizations and public health researchers. We’ve also worked with teachers to install monitors at a number of schools, including Grace Lee Boggs School, University Prep Academy High School, and Clippert Multicultural Magnet Honors Academy.

Air Quality Sensor Learning Collaborative 

Building technical knowledge and relationships around air quality monitoring in Detroit and Wayne County 

In February 2020, Ecology Center took over as convenor of the Air Sensor Learning Collaborative (AQSLC), a partnership of community, government, and academic partners using air quality sensors to understand and improve air quality in the Detroit area. This collaboration provides an important opportunity to share with and learn from representatives of the City of Detroit, EGLE, EPA, academic partners, and community-based partners.  

As convenors, we have encouraged a community-driven process that centers on community needs and works to identify priority projects and interests of collaborative partners. At each meeting, partners give presentations and share about technology, data, and best practices related to air quality sensors and community engagement. In addition, there is time for updates and networking among members to share information and build strong collaboration. 

In partnership with Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, Grace in Action/Radical Productions, Detroit-Hamtramck Coalition, Detroit Hispanic Development Corporation, CHASS Clinic, Eastside Residents Environmental Health Working Group, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition,  Green Door Initiative, Eastside Community Network, Justice for Beniteau Residents, Capuchin Soup Kitchen, Be a Good Neighbor Project, the Georgia St. Collective and We Want Green Too on Detroit’s east side.   

Community Education on Air Quality

Providing presentations and workshops on health-related impacts of poor air quality

The Ecology Center provides community education about air quality and related health impacts. Working with community partners and the Ecology Center’s environmental education team, we have developed presentations and community fact sheets on air quality. Community groups have used the information to approach air-polluting industry groups to outline their concerns and negotiate community requests around operating parameters.  

Organizing and Advocating for Healthy Air

The Ecology Center also provides technical and organizing assistance to communities dealing with air quality concerns and plant permitting.

Detroit and Wayne County Air Quality Planning Collaborative 

The Ecology Center supports a community-led collaboration to develop an air quality improvement plan for southeast Michigan and Detroit. Expected to be complete in December 2022, the plan will include a policy platform, an air quality monitoring network build-out initiative for the area, and a communications and outreach strategy.   

Mural reading pollution has no boundaries
Report: From Air Pollution to Solutions
The Collaborative Planning for Clean Air in Detroit & Wayne County project is rooted in the vision that breathing clean air is a basic human right protected by regional policy. In 2022, project coordinators and participants engaged in a year-long inclusive planning process to develop a cohesive plan for clean air and environmental justice advocacy in Detroit and Wayne County.

Our report outlines recommendations, priorities, and lessons learned throughout the planning process.