Michigan Environmental Justice Assessment: determinants of racial disparities for an equitable future

Client Organization: 
Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition
Project Location : 
Detroit, MI, USA
Summary of Project Idea: 

Goals & Objectives: 

  1. Create and deliver an Environmental Justice Assessment of the state of Michigan;
  2. Identify, gather, and assess EJ data sets to effectively evaluate the “State of Environmental Justice” in Michigan;
  3. Layer social indicators of people of color communities and communities at and below the federal poverty line; explore vulnerable population subsets [women, immigrant, single-parent households]
  4. Deliver a statistical analysis of cumulative environmental impacts on these communities;
  5. Integrate a community input aspect that may include survey, interviews, focus groups;
  6. Develop a policy analysis congruent to the institutionalized implementation of solutions to the problem of cumulative impact;
  7. Deliver a final report to the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, which communicates findings of the “State of EJ in Michigan” that includes a physical rendering of the results, presentation, maps, and glossy report.

Theoretical Justification, Social Benefit, or Significance: 

  1. Michigan environmental justice communities suffer disproportionate impacts on health and quality of life issues. For example, home of the state’s only oil refinery is in zip code 48217, sited to be the state’s most polluted zip code, and statistically significant rates of lung cancer in Michigan. Detroit, has three times the asthma hospitalization rate than the rest of Michigan, and asthma is the number one cause for absenteeism in school children. Refer to Schultz et al. [2016] which found that Census tracts with greater proportions of people of color disproportionately encounter physical environmental exposures, socioeconomic vulnerabilities, and combined risk.
  2. Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition [MEJC] is exploring advocacy channels to create systems change for environmental justice in Michigan and current tools, such as EJ Screen, are limited in their scope. A mechanism to demonstrate the implementation of a California-style EJ Enviro-Screen would demonstrate the feasibility and help make the case to decision-makers in often underrepresented geographies while acting as an advocacy tool for EJ practitioners.
  3. MEJC is seeking to build bridges between communities that are geographically disparate, and historically segregated to act on a common goal of Environmental Justice for all. This project would help to build political momentum, grassroots power, and systems change by creating new knowledge and offering it to our social networks to respond collectively through advocacy, media and more.
  4. Current members of MEJC are involved in multiple political activities that aim to improve the health and welfare of vulnerable communities and would benefit by more research during a critical change in State Administration 2019 to “make the case”.
  5. The impact of this research would amplify the need for policies that alleviate or ameliorate, if not eventually eliminate disproportionality of environmental impacts, and make the case to transition into a clean and just environmentally-friendly economy.
  6. As a consequence of the Flint Water Crisis, the Governor has put together and charged an Environmental Justice Work Group with developing an environmental justice plan for the State of Michigan. A number of members of MELJ are on this Work Group, including Dr. Mohai who is an academic member of MELJ. With the University of Michigan’s reputation and expertise in the area of environmental justice, SEAS Masters students could play an important role in helping to develop a baseline assessment of the state of environmental justice in Michigan against which future progress in achieving environmental justice in Michigan could be measured.

 Specific Activities & Duration: 

  1. Literature review may include: Environmental Justice Assessments, Vulnerability Impact Assessment, Cumulative Impact, Just Research, Survey and Technology Methodology
  2. Review, and with the collaboration of MEJC and EJ Advisor, select environmental indicators and social indicators prominent in Michigan; Gather, compile and analyze available soft and hard data sets relative to those indicators
  3. Explore mechanisms to present data [GIS mapping/ digital informatics] and create a modus for communication of data;
  4. Research policy approaches to the implementation of EJ solutions that incorporate procedural justice themes; with a possibility to design policy implementation metrics and model scorecard        
  5. Develop survey language to create new data on environmental justice communities, gather input relative to the environmental and social indicators chosen
  6. Attend, and possible present at, the Statewide Environmental Justice Summit in Fall 2018

 Integrative Approach: 

An environmental justice assessment for Michigan will integrate research, data analysis, informatics, and social science skills and tools to provide one environmental justice assessment. We would like new data on EJ communities, but how can we make this transparent, readily available, readable by community and decision-makers? All pieces to the puzzle help to create a complete picture that will make our communities more just and environmentally sound. The EJ Assessment is an advocacy tool for MEJC affiliates to approach decision-makers for systems change at a critically important political juncture—the gubernatorial election. It should be coherent and singular, such that it is contextualized within the best available research, and operational vis-à-vis ready and appropriate advocacy channels.

SEAS Program Areas: 
Environmental Policy and Planning
Behavior, Education, and Communication
Environmental Informatics
Environmental Justice
Sustainable Systems
Role for each program area: 

Environmental Justice: The review and determination of environmental indicators and social indicators prominent in Michigan are a traditional environmental justice analysis while gathering, compile and analyze available soft and hard data sets offers new skills and abilities to advance any career. MEJC provides access to EJ social networks through social gatherings, attending meetings, skype, phone calls, and special events. Researchers will also be invited to the 2018 Michigan Statewide EJ Summit [Sept, 2018, location TBA].

Environmental Informatics: Explore mechanisms to present data [GIS mapping/ digital informatics] allowing for working, actionable knowledge around environmental justice principles; offer increased transparency and open data information accessible to communities around the state and beyond

Environmental Policy and Planning: The research of policy will assist in the implementation of EJ solutions and downward accountability that incorporate procedural justice themes. This allows EPP students to explore institutions and agencies who may be responsible for the implementation of the EJ solutions. Social networks will be accessible through MEJC include agency heads, non-profits and EJ community members, expanding a student researcher’s social network. The possibility of designing a policy implementation scorecard gives MEJC a real-time way to hold these institutions accountable, giving research real-world functionality immediately.

Behavior, Education and Communication: Learn environmental justice principles and practice through the development of survey methodologies to create new data with environmental justice communities, gather input relative to the environmental and social indicators chosen, and practice to relate and communicate complex issues generatively and appropriately.

Sustainable Systems: How do many layers of data become real in people’s lives? What are the ways systems thinking, as well as a sound understanding of ecological principles, the capabilities of technology, and the mechanisms that reshape economic and social progress inform how we conceptualize EJ? Sustainable systems students can help by offering life cycle analysis of toxins that impact our lives to further inform the ways in which we regulate them. Which environmental indicators best demonstrate the disproportionality of toxins and how can we avoid them in the future?

Professional Career Development Benefits: 
  1. Knowledge of environmental justice, equity in environmental policies and practices, and greater knowledge of Michigan’s lay of the land in EJ;
  2. Experience in ethics based research practice and principles with and along side of EJ communities
  3. Social networking with communities, non-profits and governmental agencies around the issue of EJ
  4. Increased connectivity between research and practice, with an advocacy lens on systems change
  5. Real world practice of skills like GIS, statistics, policy analysis, social science, communications towards this end
Funding Sources: 

MEJC is currently seeking funding for Summer 2018 internship for students and stipends for research. [Funding dependent]. Non-paid internships with MEJC welcome, and if interested, internship with member of MEJC; exploration of housing in Detroit, MI possible. 

Identify expected products/deliverables: 


  1. A glossy publication that demonstrates the visualization of data and findings;
  2. Powerpoint presentation to MEJC members, and affiliates that corresponds to the visualization of findings;
  3. Amplification: Any academic publication co-authored with major contributing members or individuals of MEJC; and possible collaboration in media promotion, social media promotion.


The current plan is to integrate the findings with any advocacy efforts within our network. Those may include but are not limited to:

  1. State of Michigan Environmental Justice Working Group and efforts to implement an Environmental Justice Plan at the State of Michigan
  2. New gubernatorial elect as of January 2019
  3. Any outreach and education to local, state and national elected officials, or current/newly appointed agency heads and staff
  4. Advocacy within public processes around new rulemaking, or legislation at the local, state or federal level
  5. Outreach and education with Environmental Justice fenceline communities, and the networks of which they are apart
  6. Our friends, families and loved ones who care deeply about the health of our communities
Contact full name: 
MEJC Coordinator
Job title: 
Michelle Martinez
State or Country: 
SEAS Faculty Advisor: 
Paul Mohai
Contact Phone: 
Contact information: 
SNRE alum
Staff member of a potential client organization
Master Students Involved in Project: 
  • Laura Grier 
  • Delia Mayor 
  • Brett Zeuner 
Project Status: 
In Progress