Continuing a Tradition of University Partnerships

Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice has a long record of working with universities to create or contribute to research, lend expertise, or provide opportunities for learning. We have contributed to several environmental health initiatives, such as Wayne State University’s Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors (CURES), as well as the Great Lakes Environmental Law Clinic, Detroit’s Urban Research Center (of which we have been a member for 20 years), and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. DWEJ has also been an advisor to a variety of research programs at Wayne State University, University of Michigan, and Michigan State University.

Responding to a Public Health Crisis 

In 2016, we were honored to join a project led by the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health, investigating how poor air quality was impacting health outcomes for Metro Detroit residents, and more importantly, what could be done about it. The project, called the Community Action to Promote Healthy Environments (CA-PHE), is an ongoing partnership among community-based organizations, Metro Detroit residents, health service providers and public health researchers. Many partners, including DWEJ, have been part of multiple community-academic research partnerships with the University for over 20 years. 

Industrial pollution and the environmental damage it causes, has been a problem in the Detroit area for decades. Environmental pollution harms the health of people living in and near the polluted areas, causing illnesses like acute asthma and increasing asthma-related hospitalizations. One study, produced as a result of the partnerships, estimated that each year in the Detroit Metro Area alone, air pollution was responsible for 690 deaths, 1800 hospitalizations and ER visits, as well as thousands of missed school and work days. The cumulative impact measured at the time was over $6.9 billion per year. 

CA-PHE was created to develop and implement a science-based, community-led public health plan to reduce air pollution in Metro Detroit, and in turn, mitigate the health effects it causes. DWEJ contributed our expertise in community engagement, collaboration, research as well as our knowledge of pollution issues in Detroit to help develop recommendations, engage stakeholders and prioritize the implementation strategies.

A Plan Offering Solutions to Improve Detroit’s Air Quality 

In 2017, CA-PHE released the “Public Health Action Plan: Improving Air Quality and Health in Detroit”. The plan includes evidence-based recommendations around 10 strategies meant to not only improve air quality and health issues in Detroit, but to serve as a model for similar communities across the country. Those strategies include: 

  • Control emissions from locations like sewage treatment plants and factories
  • Invest in renewable energy 
  • Retrofit diesel engines
  • Implement idling controls for trucks
  • Invest in clean fuels 
  • Control emissions from vehicles and heavy equipment 
  • Install filters inside to protect residents
  • Use trees as buffers to emissions from heavy industry and transportation 
  • Enhance compliance and enforcement of air quality rules
  • Enhanced air quality monitoring

CA-PHE is currently implementing these steps as part of their overall strategy and DWEJ remains actively engaged in the coalition.

Listen to a radio interview with DWEJ’s former CEO, Guy Willams, and Amy Schulz from the University of Michigan discussing the CA-PHE plan.

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