Reducing Diesel Emissions, Improving Air Quality, and Promoting Environmental Justice in Southwest Detroit (2015)
This practicum assisted Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision (SDEV) develop ways to identify and address the disproportionate impacts of air pollution from diesel truck emissions in Southwest Detroit. Southwest Detroit is home to Michigan's only oil refinery, a sewage treatment plant that serves 126 communities, the busiest border crossing between the US and Canada, three major freeways, three steel mills, a 300 acre intermodal freight yard, and oil/metal/waste processing industries. Southwest Detroit hosts one of the busiest International border crossings, with approximately 3 to 4-million trucks crossing the Ambassador Bridge annually (10,000 trucks daily). Detroit also has 70,000-90,000 trucks daily traveling on major corridors. Diesel emissions are likely carcinogenic, exacerbate asthma attacks and allergies, and contribute to ground level ozone. The average asthma hospitalization rate for Southwest Detroit children has historically been over twice the average rate of asthma hospitalization for Michigan children. Heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are bigger causes of death in Detroit than they are statewide or nationally. Exposure to environmental pollution is a contributor to these types of disease, along with many other illnesses and health impacts such as low birth weights, infant mortality, respiratory disease, and obesity.
Despite significant environmental health impacts of major industry and transportation infrastructure, Southwest Detroit is also the most diverse, densely populated and fastest growing area in the City, with over 77,000 residents and a vibrant local retail economy spurred by immigration. Southwest Detroit and the adjacent South Dearborn are home to some of the largest populations of minority children and immigrants in the region and country. Southwest Detroit hosts a thriving Mexican-American community and South Dearborn has a large Arab-American demographic, both with significant non-English speaking segments, and the City of Detroit is home to a large African-American population
SDEV has done extensive work to reduce diesel emissions in Southwest Detroit. In 2012, SDEV received the Midwest Clean Diesel Initiative Leadership Award. Since 2009, SDEV has partnered with more than 25 local businesses, municipalities, and government agencies to invest over $11 million in clean diesel grants. SDEV has also been instrumental in creating, organizing, and facilitating the Anti-Idling Working Group to pass a citywide Anti-Idling ordinance in 2010. Despite these successes, SDEV continues to lack the capacity and funding to address ongoing exposure to diesel truck emissions in the community.
This practicum focused on developing a "three-prong toolkit" designed to build capacity at the organizational, community, and collaborative partnership scales. This toolkit was designed to collect critical data from community members, policy stakeholders, and trucking/logistics companies to assist in future strategic planning efforts. Additional capacity-building tools were developed including a case-study analysis of a similar community-driven initiative to reduce diesel truck idling in Oakland California, an observational data collection tool, a diesel emissions research report, and a sustainability toolkit designed to sustain the project through the summer of 2015 and beyond. This project also helped strengthen SDEV's partnership with Community Action to Promote Health Environments (CA-PHE), a community-based participatory research project funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science at the University of Michigan's School of Public Health.
Todd Ziegler, MS Environmental Justice