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Newsweek cover story zeroes in on River Rouge pollution


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Environmental racism. Not a subject that grabbed national headlines, that is until the Flint water crisis thrust the concept into the spotlight as the country asked how such a disaster could happen in 21st century America.

Now that light is shining on another Michigan city.

In this week’s cover story, Newsweek takes a long look into air pollution, asthma, and another MDEQ failing in another low-income minority community. This time the focus is on River Rouge, where residents struggle with asthma after a lifetime of breathing a toxic cocktail of industrial emissions.

Author Sean Proctor describes the problem.

“Flint had lead; southwest Detroit has sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide—plus benzene, toluene, cadmium and mercury. A litany of carcinogens and respiratory irritants fill the air residents have no choice but to breathe. Cancer and asthma. A population sucking on a tailpipe.”

The neighborhood is “out of compliance” on sulfur dioxide emissions, meaning the amounts in the air exceed allowable levels under the Clean Air Act. But that didn’t stop the MDEQ from approving a permit to allow the nearby Marathon Refinery to increase their emissions of the chemical, which is a known contributor to asthma.

Which begs the question: Now that we’re talking about the intersection of environmental degradation, race, and class in America, will something finally be done about it? Or will the controversy simply blow over, leaving the people of cities like Flint and River Rouge choking on polluted air and afraid to reach for a glass of water?

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