Detroit responds to COVID-19, Announcing the Planet Detroit Book Club

March 20, 2020 | CO2 2020/2019 414.58 / 414.84 ppm <<

Dear Planet Detroit readers,

We’re all reeling. This is not going away anytime soon.

We know that the COVID-19 pandemic is happening within the context of our local environment. It will interact with climate change, with floods, with heatwaves, and with environmental disease burdens like asthma and high blood pressure and lead exposure. It will operate within the context of our regulatory framework and our communities.

In the coming weeks and months, we pledge to continue bringing you news about your local environment. And we’re opening the door to you. How can we help? What questions or information needs do you have that we can help answer? What stories do you see unfolding in your community?

Please reach out by replying to this email. We want to hear from you.


The Planet Detroit Team

Nina Ignaczak & Brian Allnutt

Detroit's environmental groups begin a COVID-19 response that could last months

The Michigan Chapter of the Sierra Club had planned this week for talks with City of Detroit officials around a proposed River Protection Ordinance, but things changed quickly. 

“Everything in terms of environmental organizing is on hold just because there’s so much going on around the COVID-19 crisis,” Justin Onwenu, an organizer with the group says. 

Read Brian Allnutt’s full story here>>>

Share Planet Detroit Newsletter

Announcing the Planet Detroit Book Club (w/ Book Suey)

We’ve decided now might be a good moment to take advantage of the time spent at home and launch our Planet Detroit Book Club. First up: the book Heatwave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago by Eric Klinenberg.

The book is an all-too-timely account of Chicago’s deadly 1995 heatwave, which resulted in the death of an estimated 739 Chicagoans. The disaster was made worse by social and political failures, many of which we see being repeated in our current response to COVID-19. Klinenberg uses statistical analysis and interviews to give a nuanced picture of the crisis, revealing how some neighborhoods managed to prevail in a moment of environmental crisis while others faced high mortality.

Read this interview with Klinenberg and check out his recent article on the importance of social cohesion for fighting the coronavirus to get a sense of how Klinenberg sees public health intersecting with other social forces. Klinenberg has agreed to do an online Q&A with Planet Detroit Book Club participants. Details TBD.

We’re partnering with Hamtramck-based Book Suey to distribute books. Sign up here to get plugged into the book club and order your copy.

Is Detroit doing enough to reconnect water?

It was big news last week when the city announced it would stop water shutoffs and reconnect service that had been discontinued in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. One week later, some are questioning if the city is moving nearly fast enough.

Detour Detroit tells us the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department had restored service to 400 homes or 40% of those that had called a city hotline (313-386-9727) for reconnection by Tuesday. But DWSD also says 2,800 customers have lost service since April and not had it restored. What accounts for this discrepancy?

The city says they’ve sent out door-knockers to disconnected homes to leave fliers. But DWSD only has the capacity to reconnect about 100 homes daily, so it could still take months to restore service to everyone who needs it. Some wonder if this is all comes too late to help forestall the Covid-19 crisis and if the reconnections will ever actually take place.

“There’s no way that this can be resolved in any sort of short-term way. The problems that we’ve been talking about with the water shutoffs and their related health impacts are too big,” organizer Sylvia Orduño from the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization says. “We’ve been telling city officials for years, you’ve got to prepare for this.”

Those fighting water shutoffs say that state intervention is needed to restore water service as well as to allow pick up locations for bottled water and cleaning supplies.

DTE Energy and Consumers Energy suspend electricity disconnections

Michigan’s two largest utilities have discontinued shutoffs for electricity and natural gas as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. DTE Energy says in a statement that they’re “suspending shutoffs for non-payment for those customers who are low-income eligible, effective immediately through April 5, 2020.” Customers who may be experiencing health problems or a sudden loss of a job can contact the company at 800-477-4747 to determine what payment assistance is available.

High water levels continue to wreak havoc

Some Michigan communities aren’t going to have the luxury of ignoring the area’s other major disaster this spring as the Great Lakes basin comes off its wettest year ever. Residents of Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood are rushing to repair seawalls to prevent further flooding and shoreline properties on Lake St. Clair are seeing erosion. Away from the waterfront, there’s the possibility that pumps in Detroit and Warren could burn out from more heavy rain and create problems with flooding further inland.

“One of the biggest challenges that I see is that we’re not sure when this event will end,” Krystle Walker, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers emergency management specialist says. “Typically, when you have an emergency event, it is very discrete—you have a storm come through, nice weather comes in behind it, and you’re able to really recover at some point.”

And the Great Lakes are changing—less ice is resulting in cultural changes while climate-related storms are reshaping coastlines.

Flint baby teeth to be tested for lead

Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha—who helped uncover the Flint water crisis—says 100 baby teeth from Flint children have been sent to a lab for testing in New York City. She is encouraging other parents whose children were in-utero during the summer of 2014 to save their kid’s baby teeth as well for inclusion in future studies. The study could determine children’s lead exposure and potentially how it correlates with neuropsychological assessments.

“The (baby teeth study) adds to the science but doesn’t change anything about what we have been doing and what we need to keep doing long term,” Hanna-Attisha told The Journal Monday. “We don’t necessarily need this science to keep supporting our kids as much as possible for as long as possible.”

Where to find the best Covid-19 info

People are understandably trying to find the information they need to protect themselves and others during this crisis. Bridge Magazine has a lot of good info, including instructions on how to make your own hand sanitizer, a map of where children can get meals during school closures and some answers to commonly asked questions. has a number of great resources for volunteering and making donations as well as policy priorities that you might want to contact your elected officials about. The Metro-Detroit COVID-19 Facebook page is another source for information on community needs. In Detroit specifically, Southwest Detroit Mutual Aid is helping out with Covid-19 response along with the Unity in Our Community Timebank.

The Brightmoor Connection Food Pantry, We the People of Detroit and Gleaners Community Food Bank are all doing important work to help make sure Metro Detroiters have adequate food, water, and sanitary products.


WDET’s Annamarie Sysling talks with Georgia Institute of Technology climate scientist Kim Cobb on how the lessons of climate change can also inform our response to COVID-19.

Big picture

If you are an absolute glutton for punishment, Inside Climate News has you covered with this Q and A with Harvard Doctor Aaron Bernstein where he discusses the connections between climate change and Covid-19. Spoiler: We may be seeing more of this.

Check out our local environmental jobs & volunteer opportunities & events >>>

***Interested in our SPONSOR space? Email us with your details at***


Our ability to publish Planet Detroit hinges on you! If you are finding value in this newsletter, please FORWARD TO A FRIEND, SHARE ON SOCIAL MEDIA. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Thanks for reading!