Most polluted Michigan zip code holds air quality hearing

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A congressional hearing was held at a recreation center in southwest Detroit Monday.

The packed house hails from a community inundated with pollution from heavy industry - where experts say environmental racism is alive and well - impacting this and many other low income communities of color.

"You can't breathe and they smell toxic and they are choking you - these are the emissions what we've experienced," said Emma Lockridge, environmental activist.

Lockridge and so many others in the 48217 zip code have suffered from cancer and kidney failure - pointing to pollution from so many industries there - including Marathon Petroleum. 


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The Marathon Petroleum in southwest Detroit experienced a chemical release last week which their second one this year. The state is investigating, but U.S. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib says more needs to be done - so she brought this congressional field hearing to her district. she says is Michigan's most polluted zip code.

"Just last week residents in the neighborhood surrounding this field hearing were exposed to yet another gas leak from the Marathon (Petroleum) plant - they're still searching for answers," she said.

Marathon Petroleum says the leak involved slurry oil from a valve that was quickly contained. Marathon says there was no negative impact from the incident but understands why some residents are concerned

"Marathon takes the safety of our employees, our contractors and the communities we work in at the highest regard - we have an outside team that's come in to look at the process that's happened," said Dave Leaver, GM Detroit Marathon Petroleum Refinery.

But Marathon Petroleum is only part of the problem - the number of plants and factories in such a small area makes for a dangerous cumulative effect and federal clean air laws don't take that into account. They instead look at each individual business for compliance, rather than the huge concentration of chemical plants in one area - which pollute at the same time.

"Dust and particles and it's not healthy and it's not okay and it's only acceptable because it's poor black and brown communities. So environmental racism is very real," said Antonio Cosme. 

But it's not just southwest Detroit - testimony included the Flint water crisis as well. The notion that clean air and clean water go together and that low income communities of color are disproportionately impacted - what the people who live there know, as sacrifice zones.

Those same people are hopeful some federal attention will help make them and their community safer zones - instead.

"The people at the end of the day are saying what are you going to do for us - so this has been long overdue and hopefully we'll get something out of this," said Michigan Rep. Tyrone Carter.