Detroit's history of environmental racism, Lake level forecast for 2020, PFAS in rainwater


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In this week’s news ….

Racism and the ‘environmental justice nightmare’ of Detroit

Racial disparities driving environmental threats in Detroit were thrown into relief in an essay by Drew Costley in the online journal OneZero. Without even getting into the recent events, Costley covers the air pollution, lead problems and ongoing water shutoffs that have plagued Detroiters.

Costley profiles Vince Martin, a Cuban immigrant and environmental activist who grew up near the Marathon refinery in the 48217 zip code that has become synonymous with pollution.

At his 30-year high school reunion, it seemed to Martin that more people in his class were dead than living. He knew many had died from cancer. As a child, Martin’s younger brother David developed asthma and juvenile diabetes, both of which have been linked with air pollution.

The piece also covers a history of grassroots environmental activism in the city, including the work of Donele Wilkins—a former city worker—who lobbied with others for decades to shut down the Detroit Incinerator that was importing garbage from the suburbs.

But despite that win, other problems are not improving or getting worse. Lyke Thompson Wilkins, director of the Center for Urban Studies at Wayne State University, said:

“The fact is that we live in the shadows of countless brownfield sites and lead smelters... that used to crush and incinerate batteries from the auto industry that contain lead.”

Other headlines from this week show that the crisis isn’t limited to Michigan. Indeed, the United States now has the dishonor of being among the top 10 countries for pollution-related deaths. The United States is the wealthiest country in the top 10 with air toxins—especially particulate matter (PM):

The US ranks seventh for overall deaths, sandwiched between Bangladesh and Russia, and is the “wealthiest” nation to feature in the top 10 with almost 197,000 American lives lost in 2017.

Wayne County sells off a chunk of Hines park to artist

Earlier this month, Wayne County approved the sale of four acres of Hines Park in Plymouth, which includes the historic Wilcox Mill, to Plymouth-based artist Tony Roko. Roko plans to restore the Albert Kahn-designed mill and turn the area into a publicly-accessible art park, including a sculpture garden, community programming space, artists-in-residence, and gallery space, and access to the Rouge River.

The group Save Hines Park unsuccessfully campaigned to block the sale, collecting more than 17,000 signatures in opposition. Activist Bill Craig pointed out to WDET that the county renewed a nearly $10 million parks millage in 2016, money he says should go toward maintaining the park, not dismantling it. The group would have preferred that the county maintain ownership of the property and lease it to private developers.

However, county officials say they do not have the resources to maintain and restore the several historic mills it has owned for decades. The sale is part of a larger placemaking plan to divest from the structures and turn them into community assets through private ownership. In addition to Wilcox Mill, the county sold Phoenix Mill last year, and also approved the sale of Newburgh Mill in Livonia, also along Hines Drive, earlier this month.

Michigan set to see another year of high lake levels

From Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood to Lake Michigan, the state has dealt with historically high water levels this year and will continue to do so next according to the Army Corps of Engineers and others.

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Part of the problem is that winter declines in lake levels are less likely. According to ACOE engineers, beginning-of-the-year levels in 2020 will be 15 inches higher than in 2019. Ultimately, long-term precipitation trends will determine lake levels, but immediate improvements are unlikely.

All this has some property owners seeking drastic solutions that include reversing the course of Canadian rivers and allowing more water to move out of Lake Michigan through the Chicago River. The folks have petitioned the International Joint Commission (IJC) that coordinates action around Great Lakes issues between the U.S. and Canada, but the IJC says they don’t have the authority to make such changes, which could have their own negative consequences, impacting power generation and Canada’s First Nations.

Peter Annin, the author of the book “Great Lakes Water Wars,” said:

“I think the solution, as frustrating as it is, is adaptation. I don’t think it’s going to be realistic to try and wrap our big arms around this entire globally significant system that has 20 percent of the earth's fresh surface water and think we can wrestle it to the ground and control it.” 

High levels of PFAS found in rainwater

As if we needed another reason to be worried about PFAS, a new report shows rainwater in some parts of the United States contains high enough levels of these chemicals to affect human health.

This data means that PFAS could be transported long distances. The chemicals have shown up in the Arctic and among native peoples in Alaska. So very bad news.

UN climate talks a ‘disaster”

The yearly United Nations climate conference, which took place last week in Madrid, broke down in what some have called an “indisputable mess”. Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists said:

“I’ve been attending these climate negotiations since they first started in 1991, but never have I seen the almost total disconnection we’ve seen here… in Madrid between what the science requires and the people of the world demand, and what the climate negotiators are delivering,”

Wealthy nations including the United States were blamed for creating gridlock in negotiations. Australia was also called out for trying to use an “accounting loophole” to meet its emissions reduction goals. This comes as the country declares a state of emergency due to wildfires.

All this means we’re facing a higher “emissions gap” between current levels of carbon pollution and the reductions that will be needed, especially in the next decade.


Solutions & Bright Spots


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Connect: Engage with Detroit’s environment

January 4 | Detroit Garden Center Annual Meeting | Belle Isle Nature Center >>>

January 14 | MSU Extension’s Introduction to Lakes Online Course | >>>

January 18 | Bike the Blizzard | Detroit >>>

January 20 | Martin Luther King Jr. Ride | Detroit >>>

January 28 | Seed Swap | Ypsilanti >>>

January 28 | Clinton River Trail Annual Meeting | >>>

January 30 | The State of Transit: Then, Now, and into the Future! | Detroit >>>

January 30 | Southeast Michigan Sustainable Business Forum Fundraiser | Detroit >>>

February 1 | ¡Ay Cramba It’s Cold Out! | Shelby Township >>>

February 13 | Michigan Environmental Justice Summit 2020 | Ann Arbor >>>

February 29 | Quiet Adventures Symposium | Lansing >>>

March 13 | Community Treehouse Gala >>>

March 21 | Invasive Species Summit | Waterford >>>

April 4 | Trash Fishing Exploration - Testing of the boats | Detroit >>>

June 6 | National Trails Day | >>>


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