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Heard on All Things Considered

Marathon Funds $280,000 In Environmental Remediation In Southwest Detroit

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Image credit: Sandra Svoboda

The agreement includes funding for a central air filtration system at Mark Twain Elementary School, a major concern for local residents.

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Marathon Petroleum has reached a community benefits agreement with a community that has been called the “most polluted” zip code in the state.

The company will fund $280,000 in supplemental environmental projects in the 48217 zip code, including the installation of a central air filtration system at Mark Twain Elementary School for Scholars. The community benefit is part of an agreement between Michigan environmental regulators and Marathon, which includes paying state-mandated fines for a number of violations. 


Click on the player above to hear more about Marathon’s financial commitment in Southwest Detroit.


Justin Onwenu, an environmental justice organizer with the Sierra Club in Detroit, who worked to secure the commitment from Marathon, says longtime residents have expressed concerns the impact that refinery emissions have on health and emergency response systems, and cites an emissions event in Feb. 2019 as the beginning of local organizing.

The long term goal is to make sure that community members have a say in what goes on in their neighborhood.” — Justin Onwenu, Sierra Club

People were really frustrated by the incident and the history of incidents from that facility,” says Onwenu. ”Residents and organizers came together to try to pressure the state to hold Marathon responsible.”

Air Quality and Educational Outcomes 

A public hearing about the refinery.Eli Newman / WDET
Eli Newman / WDET

A public hearing about the refinery.

One of the top concerns of residents was air quality at Mark Twain Elementary. Onwenu says there is an abundance of documented studies that have found a connection between learning and air quality.

We know that school performance of students is tied directly to the environment that they learn in,” he says. 

Organizers hope the agreement puts pressure on other companies in the region to agree to community benefit projects. The central air filtration system is not just exciting for the students, but also exciting for the possibilities that could be if other companies in 48217 get on board with similar community benefit projects. Onwenu points to years of work by community members and advocates that finally culminated in this victory.

The long term goal is to make sure that community members have a say in what goes on in their neighborhood and to make sure that companies are trying their best to reduce pollution,” he says. ”in the meantime we are working hard to advocate for mitigation projects” to further alleviate toxins in communities throughout the Detroit region. 

The agreement will be finalized after a 60-day open comment period.

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Annamarie Sysling, Environmental Reporter and Producer, Detroit Today

Annamarie Sysling is a producer for “Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson.” When she’s not at work, Sysling is likely walking or biking somewhere in the city, listening to a neuroscience podcast or eating ice cream.

annamarie.sysling@wdet.org Follow @asysling

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