The Color of Climate

Detroiters Accuse the State of Michigan of Environmental Racism

After decades of exposure to nauseating pollution, activists and residents filed a civil rights complaint against the state

Drew Costley
Future Human
Published in
4 min readAug 6, 2020

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Danger Hazardous Waste sign
Photo illustration, source: Alachua County via flickr/CC BY 2.0

This is The Color of Climate, a weekly column from OneZero exploring how climate change and other environmental issues uniquely impact the future of communities of color.

The U.S. Ecology hazardous waste facility is located in a predominantly Black area in Detroit. Residents say that fumes and odors from the facility give them nausea and cause appetite loss. Dust from the plant aggravates their asthma. They keep the windows of their homes closed to keep the air pollution out. They can’t enjoy fresh air.

The residents have been dealing with pollution from the facility for decades, but the coronavirus pandemic put a spotlight on the injustices they have faced. Black, Latinx, and Indigenous people have been among the hardest hit by the coronavirus — in part because their communities are disproportionately exposed to pollution. Before the pandemic, they were already exposed to dirty air, which caused respiratory diseases that increased their likelihood of experiencing severe Covid-19. They didn’t have access to clean water for proper sanitation, and they didn’t have adequate access to health care. As a result, Black people are dying from the virus at a rate over twice as high as that of white and Asian people.

“From our perspective, unless somebody stands up and puts a stop to this and protects these communities, it’s going to continue on indefinitely.”

In late July, a group of environmental justice activists and Detroit residents took action. They filed a civil rights complaint with the state of Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) with the aim of forcing the agency to better protect communities of color in the state from hazardous waste pollution.

“From our perspective, unless somebody stands up and puts a stop to this and protects these communities, it’s going to continue on indefinitely,” Nick Leonard…

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Drew Costley
Future Human

Drew Costley is a Staff Writer at FutureHuman covering the environment, health, science and tech. Previously @ SFGate, East Bay Express, USA Today, etc.