Raising awareness on environmental health

October 27, 2017

Dr. Natalie Sampson led a group of 28 students, staff, and faculty on a guided tour through many different sites around Metropolitan Detroit to highlight major environmental health challenges and opportunities.

Students at the Detroit Riverfront
Students at the Detroit Riverfront
Students take a break from the tour bus for a short walk along the Detroit Riverfront

DETROIT, MI. - On October 21, 2017, Natalie Sampson, Assistant Professor in the College of Education, Health, and Human Services, led a group of 28 students, staff, and faculty on a guided tour through many different sites around Metropolitan Detroit to highlight major environmental health challenges and opportunities.

Funded this year by the Office of Student Success, the Environmental Justice Tour is organized regularly as part of Dr. Sampson’s course, HHS 250: Introduction to Environmental Health, and is open to the whole campus community.

“You cannot learn everything in the classroom. It’s important for students to hear from experts on the ground. These tours help students to understand how decades-long processes of disinvestment and discriminatory policies shape Detroit’s land use and environmental health inequities. It is eye-opening for them to see—in person— how these cumulative exposures are so minimally regulated.”

This Fall semester, the group made their first stop in the Warrendale neighborhood on Detroit’s Northwest side to view an example of green infrastructure.  Just a few miles from campus, Sampson conducts research as part of the Neighborhood, Environment, and Water research collaborations for Green Infrastructure (NEW-GI), a transdisciplinary research project that links Detroit’s vacant property demolition process with new forms of green infrastructure designed for both ecological and social benefits. Warrendale Community Organization and NEW-GI Advisory Committee members, Barb and Joe Matney, explained to students about Detroit’s combined sewage overflows, and how green infrastructure may help to manage stormwater.

Students at the NEW-GI bioretention garden

Students view the NEW-GI bioretention garden after learning from residents, Barb and Joe Matney, about the environmental benefits of green infrastructure.

After stopping by Detroit Renewable Energy (i.e., the incinerator), Recovery Park, and the Detroit Riverwalk, the majority of the tour passed through parts of Southwest Detroit, Rouge River, Ecorse, and Dearborn, as guided by Theresa Landrum.  Landrum, a lifelong Detroiter and environmental activist, works with Original United Citizens of SW Detroit, Sierra Club, and many residents to advocate to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and EPA to address air pollution in 48217—her native zip code, which has been deemed to have the most toxic air quality in Michigan. Recently, community leaders succeeded in getting an air monitor placed at a local church to increase monitoring in residential areas of additional pollutants.

“I think I was most surprised at how close homes and parks were to these industrial facilities. You see children playing in contaminated soil and breathing in air that is not breathable,” reflected Catherine Bohl, a junior studying public health.

Landrum narrated as the tour passed several industrial and municipal sites, including: U. S. Steel, Michigan Marine Terminal, Carmeuse Lime and Stone, DTE River Rouge Plant, Zug Island, the Marathon Refinery, AK Steel, Detroit Salt Company, and Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant. In addition to her description of health concerns associated with the exposures of this area, Landrum discussed her local and national policy advocacy efforts. The tour ended with a stop at the mural that Landrum, other residents, and U of M art students are working on together to depict how air pollution affects these neighborhoods.

Mural depicting air pollution damage in neighborhoods

On the last stop, Theresa Landrum shows students a mural in progress that will depict how air pollution affects her neighborhood.

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