But Wait, There’s More! Environmental Racism Redux, Tales from the Sacrifice Zone

By Kim Hunter

I all but lost it at a recent public hearing on February 25, one of many, I have had to attend to defend the right of people in my community in Southwest Detroit to breathe, or, should I say, to breathe without inadvertently harming ourselves. My community contains one of the most polluted ZIP codes in the country as a result of being the most industrialized part of a highly industrialized city.

Right now, the Detroit Bridge Company, owned by billionaire Matty Moroun, wants to add six more lanes of mostly truck traffic with a new bridge to Canada to the four lanes that already exist with the current Ambassador Bridge for a total of 10 lanes of traffic. This would also be in addition to the Gordie Howe Bridge from Detroit to Windsor. The proposed bridge will be in Delray, Southwest Detroit at least a few miles from the Ambassador. If the Moroun family has its way, there will be a massive concentration of truck traffic with two bridges next to each other in one community.

So we demanded that the U.S. Coast Guard, who called the environmental hearing on the proposed bridge last Thursday, do a full Environmental Impact Study on the affects of adding massive truck traffic to a community that already has more than its share of pollution.

You probably know that Detroit is overwhelming African American. Southwest Detroit is mostly Latino/a. But, any way you slice it, communities of color in Southeast Michigan are being seriously and disproportionately impacted by pollution. Detroit is a hotspot of environmental racism. But those of us who live in Detroit refuse and resist being the sacrifice zone.

Asthma rates in Detroit in general and Southwest Detroit in particular are crazy high. According to the State of Michigan, adult asthma rates in Detroit and the rate of kids sent to the hospital because of asthma are both 50 percent higher in Detroit than in the rest of Michigan. Links between asthma and diesel exhaust have been long established.

My daughter has asthma and, when she was younger, would wake up hacking in the middle of night. I would turn on the shower to create steam, lug a chair into the bathroom and sit with her until she could breathe without coughing. The physical activity alone disrupted my sleep to say nothing of the worry that comes with you’re awoken in the middle of the night by your child coughing violently. This is in addition to hours per week spent with the nebulizer breathing treatments, a ritual well known to families with asthmatic kids.

Our family is far from being alone with regards to asthma. The coach of the local hockey and baseball teams at nearby Clark Park testified at the hearings that 20 years ago, kids with inhalers to counteract asthma were rare. Now it’s common to see kids with anti-asthma inhalers.

The insanity doesn’t stop there. For years now, those of us who opposed the Moroun’s plans to wreck our community have suspected that they have been paying for support by hiring fake demonstrators and phony testimony at public hearings. We got proof at last week’s public hearing. One of the folks trucked in and paid to support the Bridge Company’s second bridge admitted on camera to being paid to testify and went as far as to allow himself to be recorded on video going to Moroun’s van for payment and then literally showed the money to the reporter, $75.

While Moroun’s bought and paid for, fake testimony may be okay with the bribers and those being bribed, it raises serious moral and ethical questions if not legal ones. What’s more, it runs completely counter to Mayor Duggan’s proclaiming last summer that the Morouns would no longer use the illegal, underhanded tactics that made them the enemy of Detroiter’s in general and Southwest Detroiters in particular.

Despite the false testimony, Southwest Detroit residents were and are determined to protect ourselves from the Bridge Company. I admit to getting pretty loud at the hearing, outraged by the prospects of more people suffering from asthma and the total callousness of paying people to lie about their support for the project. I can only hope that the Coast Guard heard us. I can only hope the exposure of fake support for profit over human health will lead to justice.