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Addressing Environmental Racism in Detroit
Environmental racism is not a new issue. Environmental justice advocates have continued to raise awareness over the past several years, highlighting the issue as a top priority. MLive's newest documentary, The Fight for Environmental Justice in Michigan, explores the issue of environmental racism in Southwest Detroit, one ofMichigan's most highly polluted areas. The area, home to many predominantly minority communities, is heavily exposed to industrial operations, including steel manufacturing and oil refining as well as heavy truck traffic from I-75. Simultaneously, a new article by researchers from Siena Heights University analyzing data gathered by We the People of Detroit provides evidence of continued environmental racism as it shapes access to water in Detroit. Their analysis demonstrates that Detroit water shutoffs have, and continue to, disproportionately affect predominantly Black communities.
Environmental justice activists and organizations in Detroit have been tackling environmental racism for decades, with national and local awareness increasing in the past several years. Several environmental justice leaders featured in the MLive documentary serve as members of, and make substantial contributions to, the work of the M-LEEaD Center. Michelle Martinez from the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition servesas a member of the M-LEEaD Stakeholder Advocacy Board. MEJC’s focus on air pollution and climate change is featured powerfully in the documentary. “Just because you don’t live in a toxic environment or in a community that has air pollution or water contamination doesn’t mean it’s not your problem,” says Martinez. “Environmental justice communities are just the canary in the coal mine.” Justin Onwenu, formerly an organizer with the Environmental Justice branch of the Sierra Club in Detroit, speaks about the environmental justice movement's roots in civil rights andhuman rights movements. He says, “The environmental movement historically has been about conservation, has been about protecting and preserving wildlife. The environmental justice movement is more deeply rooted in human rights, so access to clean air, access to clean water, the right to live in an environment that’s healthy.” M-LEEaD Stakeholder Advocacy Board member We the People of Detroit has been working collaboratively with researchers to build the scientific foundation linking water shut offs to public health. They are working with others to reframe those shutoffs as a public health issue that requires systematic policy change to address.
M-LEEaD researcher Amy Schulz, featured in the documentary, has been working in collaboration with Detroit community residents to understand and address the social and environmental factors affecting air pollution and health. Exposures to air pollutants common in SW Detroit are linked to asthma, cancer, and heart and lung disease. Using the scientific evidence base to inform interventions, together academic and community partners are working to promote environmental justice and health equity in Detroit. M-LEEaD-affiliated researcher Dr. Patricia Koman, also featured in the MLive film, brings her scienceand policy expertise to bear, calling for increased use of Health Impact Assessments as a tool for understanding the health implications of all policies before they are implemented, in order to understand and reduce their potential adverse impacts on health. As highlighted in the recently published case study by Moody and colleagues (2021), racist housing and urban development policies, such as redlining and freeway development through predominantly Black communities, continue to be associated with present day health consequences, including water shutoffs and increases in COVID-19 incidence.
Researchers based in academic institutions and in communities have continued to produce critical evidence documenting the inequitable distribution of environmental burdens and associated health risks. This evidence base supports the need forgreater protections for environmental justice communities. With growing and sustained attention placed on these issues, the atmosphere is prime for policy changes in both industry and government. The "Protecting Overburdened Communities Act," currently moving through the Michigan legislature, would introduce stronger regulations for polluting industries in communities with large proportions of minoritized groups, residents whose incomes fall at or below the poverty line, or those with limited proficiencyin English. To address water shutoffs, collective research models are exploring the use of an affordability program that was recently introduced in the Ohio legislature and developed with the input of community members affected by water shutoffs. Although Michigan does not currently have legislation to address water shutoff issues,this research can be used as a tool to advocate for similar programs to be implemented in Detroit and across Michigan. In the MLive documentary, community activist Theresa Landrum calls for allyship. She says, “I’m talking about white, black, brown, blue, green, whatever color, whatever ethnicity. We have to become allies to work to be good stewards to protect Mother Earth because we don’t have anything else.” The M-LEEaD Center is committed to fostering relationships with community leaders and environmental advocates in Southwest Detroit to bring science to bear in addressing environmental injustices.
"No Defense” is a documentary that tells the story of the Americans who are fighting against one of the largest-known polluters in the country — the United States military. For decades, it's been documented that a category of chemicals known as PFAS are harmful to life by contaminating drinking water and surface water, yet the military continues to mandate its use at hundreds of sites across the country, with no plan in place to clean it up. Instead, the DOD is pressuring regulators to keep this toxin legal.
The documentary will be available to screen August 12 - 18, 2021. Join on August 19 for a panel discussion with film director Sara Ganim along with Craig Minor and Tony Spaniola, who are featured in the film. The discussion will be moderated by We the People of Detroit CEO Monica Lewis-Patrick.
A recent study published by M-LEEaD's John Meeker and colleagues was selected as one of the NIEHS Papers of the Month. The study, "Prenatal exposure to glyphosate and its environmental degradate, aminomethylphosphonic acid (AMPA), and preterm birth: A nested case-control study in the PROTECT cohort (Puerto Rico)," linked glyphosate, the most heavily used herbicide in the world, to preterm birth in a study population of 247 pregnant women in northern Puerto Rico.
In a recent article in The Detroit News, Chuanwu Xi commented on the increase in Legionnaires' disease that was reported in 25 Michigan counties in the first two weeks of July compared to the same time last year. "These big office buildings that weren’t used often in the pandemic season – there’s a lot of stagnant water in the pipes," where the bacteria could have grown, Xi said. Read the full article here.
There is a $50 fee for each session that will be fully refunded if the participant attends the session. Shortcode is required at registration. Participants in the Mentoring Academy will address challenges facing senior postdoc and faculty mentors via case studies, group discussions, and role-plays. The next session will be held Monday, September 13 and offerings run through December.
Rygiel CA, Goodrich JM, Solano-González M, Mercado-García A, Hu H, Téllez-Rojo MM, Peterson KE, Dolinoy DC. Prenatal Lead (Pb) Exposure and Peripheral Blood DNA Methylation (5mC) and Hydroxymethylation (5hmC) in Mexican Adolescents from the ELEMENT Birth Cohort. Environ Health Perspect. 2021 Jun;129(6):67002. doi: 10.1289/EHP8507. Epub 2021 Jun 21. PMID: 34152198; PMCID: PMC8216410.
Wang X, Karvonen-Gutierrez CA, Herman WH, Mukherjee B, Harlow SD, Park SK. Urinary Heavy Metals and Longitudinal Changes in Blood Pressure in Midlife Women: The Study of Women's Health Across the Nation. Hypertension. 2021 Aug;78(2):543-551. doi: 10.1161/HYPERTENSIONAHA.121.17295. Epub 2021 Jun 21. PMID: 34148361; PMCID: PMC8266752.
Lin N, Kwarteng L, Godwin C, Warner S, Robins T, Arko-Mensah J, Fobil JN, Batterman S. Airborne volatile organic compounds at an e-waste site in Ghana: Source apportionment, exposure and health risks. J Hazard Mater. 2021 Jun 10;419:126353. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2021.126353. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34175701.
Harlow SD, Hood MM, Ding N, Mukherjee B, Calafat AM, Randolph JF, Gold EB, Park SK. Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) and Hormone Levels during the Menopausal Transition. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2021 Jun 28:dgab476. doi: 10.1210/clinem/dgab476. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34181018.
Laubach ZM, Greenberg JR, Turner JW, Montgomery TM, Pioon MO, Sawdy MA, Smale L, Cavalcante RG, Padmanabhan KR, Lalancette C, vonHoldt B, Faulk CD, Dolinoy DC, Holekamp KE, Perng W. Early-life social experience affects offspring DNA methylation and later life stress phenotype. Nat Commun. 2021 Jul 20;12(1):4398. doi: 10.1038/s41467-021-24583-x. PMID: 34285226; PMCID: PMC8292380.
Wang X, Ding N, Harlow SD, Randolph JF Jr, Mukherjee B, Gold EB, Park SK. Urinary metals and metal mixtures and timing of natural menopause in midlife women: The Study of Women's Health Across the Nation. Environ Int. 2021 Jul 24;157:106781. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106781. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 34311223.
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Per NIH grants policy, all publications, press releases, and other documents relevant to research funded by the center must include a specific acknowledgement of support. For the EHS Core Center, this statement may read:
“Support for this research was provided by grant P30ES017885 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.”