Detroit residents testified during a Congressional hearing Thursday that industrial pollution in the city is damaging their health. The Oversight Environmental Subcommittee held a two-hour long field hearing at a Wayne County Community College campus to discuss corporate pollution and its effects on communities.
“I step outside and I’m expecting to breathe in fresh air and it’s not fresh,” said Daeya Redding, a Detroit resident who testified about having chronic asthma and migraines from living near industrial sites. “I just picture the people who run the facility or the people working in there just doing their job and not having any idea about what they’re doing to the people that’s literally around them.”
Redding’s mother, Pamela McGhee, noted during the Congressional hearing racist housing policies and urban planning forced her relatives to share the same space as heavy industry.
“My family has been living in our neighborhood since 1954,” said McGhee, adding that many of her relatives now have respiratory illnesses. “My concern is the future generations of people.”
The subcommittee chair, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-California), toured various neighborhoods near industrial sites with the subcommittee’s vice chair, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan). Khanna criticized the automaker Stellantis, which operates a Jeep plant on the city’s east side, saying he could smell the pollution emitting from the facility.
“They can’t have a license even if they’re headquartered in Europe to do damage to our communities in America. That’s not right, that’s not fair and we want to hold them accountable,” said Khanna.
Residents told the congressional subcommittee that federal regulators need to better engage with communities impacted by industry. They also argue that the Environmental Protection Agency should impose more limits on how much pollution it allows factories to emit. Robert Shobe, a cancer patient living near the Jeep plant, testified that he feels like a prisoner in his own home.
“Us being Black plays such a big factor in this,” said Shobe. “I look at this as a prelude to gentrifying us out of there.”
Following statements from residents, environmental experts testified to the harmful effects of pollution. Jamesa Johnson-Greer, Executive Director of the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, told the Congressional panel that emission reductions need to be mandated by federal regulators because fines and fees have little effect on corporations.
“They bake these violations into their bottom line as a contingency,” said Johnson-Greer. “It is not in any way actually a penalty for them.”
Others noted that current governmental regulations fall short of scientific evidence.
“While most parts of the country are in attainment with national ambient air quality standards, reputable estimates are that 50,000 deaths a year are caused by exposure to air pollution,” said Dr. Stuart Batterman, an environmental public health professor at the University of Michigan.
The director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, Nicholas Leonard, testified there is a racial component to industrial pollution. He cited a 2007 study that found 65 percent of residents living within three miles of hazardous waste facilities in Michigan are people of color.
“Clearly there is something missing here,” said Leonard. “The asthma disparity for Detroit residents is getting worse… air permitting needs to consider the cumulative impacts and environmental risks that residents are living with.”