Study links poor air quality and Gentrification

The past few days, the air in Southeast Michigan has been some of the worst in the country. It's impacting city centers – especially in urban areas like Detroit. 

Henry Ford Health System Dr. Ikenna Okereke grew up in Detroit. Dr. Okereke took a deep look at the changes in air quality over the past 40 years in Wayne County. 

What he found were socioeconomic and demographic data that unsurprisingly relates to the air we breathe. A new study found that air quality has improved overall the past 40 years but gentrified areas saw less improvement, especially since 2010.

"I do a lot of work with disparities. Disparities in healthcare, disparities in social determinants in health. I was interested in what are the disparities in air quality, which may lead to lung disease,' Dr. Okereke said.

He specializes in lung and esophageal diseases and worked with researchers at MSU to see what impact air quality is having on his patients.

"There are a couple of areas which are epicenters of the worst pollution in Detroit: downtown but also the downriver area in Wayne County," Dr. Okereke said.

Gentrification in the broadest terms is a process in which a poor or working-class area experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people. The researchers conclude the demolition and the construction of new buildings, such as sporting arenas and increased traffic density may worsen air quality.

"Long term, these effects might be mitigated by parks, increased green spaces, alternative energy use things like that," Dr. Okereke said.

There are some benefits of gentrification including food security, improved education, community planning, and engagement. But Dr. Okereke says the number of EPA censors to determine air quality is only about 1 percent of what is needed. Through a Henry Ford Health air quality network they’re placing 1,000 censors throughout Wayne County, 200 of which are already up.