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Seeing through the smog to a tenuous green future ...

Seeing through the smog to a tenuous green future in Detroit

It’s not a total surprise that Detroit neighborhoods deal with some of the worst environmental injustice issues in the state. But this heat map ranking Census tracts on environmental justice scores makes the disparity quite stark — lower-income people of color are bearing the brunt of environmental risks.

Credit: Brett Zeuner, Laura Grier, Delia Mayor, Paul Mohai, University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability. Full state map here.

A student research team guided Paul Mohai, University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability professor, created the heat map as part of a project that found environmental justice “hot spots” were concentrated in Michigan’s urban areas.

Detroit neighborhoods’ scores mean they have a high risk of exposure to environmental hazards and high vulnerability. The students scored areas on indicators including estimated cancer risk, pollution levels, traffic volume and proximity to hazardous waste facilities and Superfund cleanup sites.

The worst-scoring areas in Detroit were found in Southwest and on the east side. 

According to graduate student and co-author Laura Grier, the study suggests the need for the state to itself formally measure and track environmental justice risks, then use the data to write rules that protect vulnerable residents. 

“Our analysis makes the case for future policy decisions to be informed by the perspectives of affected community members, especially the voices of minority, indigenous and low-income residents who have historically been excluded from decision-making processes,” Grier said.