Detroit resident Emma Lockridge lives near 28 facilities that produce pollutants she, and others, have to breathe in. Photo provided by Ken Coleman
Detroit resident Emma Lockridge lives near 28 facilities that produce pollutants she, and others, have to breathe in.

Emma Lockridge has to go for walks outside of her community just to breathe in fresh air. That’s because the smog, pollutants, and air quality around her home are so bad.

DETROIT—She goes on walks in neighboring towns to escape the smell.

Southwest Detroit resident Emma Lockridge, in her mid-60’s, visits parks downriver to leave the pollution-filled smog from her neighborhood she breathes daily in her home located in the 48217 zip code—known as the most polluted place in Michigan.

“All week long, everyday, I will go somewhere away from here and take a walk,” Lockridge said. “I go on walks to make sure I am inhaling fresh air.” 

Lockridge is a stone’s throw away from the Marathon Petroleum Co. refinery—a location that many residents living in the 48217 zip code area are complaining has impacted their health. She is also an organizer of Michigan United—a non-profit group that organizes and empowers Michiganders to build power in communities who need it most.

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A View From Her Backyard

“I have neighbors when they look out their back window all they see is the refinery—seeing the emissions and refinery,” Lockridge, who does too, said. “We have very strong health impacts. One thing I want to make very clear … [is] we have a cluster of huge facilities that emit pollutants; several steel mills, [and more].”

Emma Lockridge

Lockridge also contributes to the Sw Detroit Marathon Exposed Facebook page, which, [in addition to Detroit’, includes River Rouge and Ecorse residents [with about 25,000 supporters strong in the group] who learn about what is going on in their area.

Lockridge said that this problem with pollutants is longstanding and has impacted the community and her family for generations. The wintertime makes things worse as temperatures fall below 40 degrees.

“That is when you can see the emissions,” Lockridge said. “In the summer you can’t see what’s going on,” she told The ‘Gander on Oct. 27. “Today it looks pretty dreadful over there, like a big cloud. Looks like emissions rising into the air .You can clearly see that there is something coming out of the facility—something that is not self-contained and that takes us into a particularly horrible season during the winter months.”

Lockridge said that in a process called thermal inversion [especially in living near a refinery or steel mill] heavy emissions come out with the cold air and they can’t rise. 

“So it gets held lower to the ground,” Lockridge said, adding that in the summer months the emissions go straight out and higher. “Once it’s cold and closer to the ground like you’re trapped in a bubble. … You smell it more. It gets into your home more.”

Emma Lockridge

Lockridge said that the air quality gets better come spring but that’s too far, and sometimes too late, for some who live in 48217.

In total, that community has over 28 facilities [that aren’t regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency] nearby the community.

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A Host of Medical Problems Ail This Community

“What are the real toxins that are hitting us,” Lockridge said. “How do these chemicals interact? How does a refinery interact with cleaning agents compared to the steel mills? What [does] this whole toxic soup mean? What it really means is a lot of sick people.”

Lockridge’s experienced kidney failure in the past; her sister died on dialysis when she was 49.

“She did not want to get a kidney transplant and I did; she only lasted eight years,” Lockridge said, adding that her 40-some first cousins [who do not live in the 48217 zip code] don’t have kidney failure. Only her, her mother, and her sister were in the zip code.

Lockridge can rattle off many people she knows including her mother and neighbors, and beyond, who have experienced, and died from, medical ailments. 

“I feel like it has to do with the lead and toxins that rains on us,” she said.

A view from Emma Lockridge’s community. Photo provided by Emma Lockridge

This Community Continues to Fight for Better

President Donald Trump is behind many recent environmental rollbacks. The Trump administration’s environmental rollbacks could significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions over the 10 years and lead to thousands of extra deaths from poor air quality each year, according to energy and legal analysts in a NY Times article.

According to National Geographic, when the US pulled out of the Paris Climate Agreement that “set the tone” for Trump’s leadership across the nation with his consideration for the environment and less involvement in international climate change agreements. According to the article, the Environmental Protection Agency also loosened regulations on toxic air pollution.

Lockridge, who leans more toward Democratic nominee Joe Biden, said she is “not happy with what Trump is doing” in the environment. Lockridge said that Trump’s environmental rollbacks have impacted her community directly. 

Biden promises to overcome Trump’s environmental rollbacks if elected. 

He wants to “ensure the US achieves a 100% clean energy economy and reaches net-zero emissions no later than 2050” and promote “clean energy innovations” across the nation’s economy and in communities “most impacted by climate change” according to his website. This would help protect families who live in factory towns, like Lockridge. 

Biden  is also interested in establishing an Environmental and Climate Justice Division within the U.S. Department of Justice, to elevate better environmental protections across the country.

“These are actionable policies that we can get to work on right away,” he said in a speech.

Maggie Striz Calnin, pictured, shows a dirty furnace filter from her home in Southwest Detroit. Photo provided by Maggie Striz Calnin

The Fight Remains Local, For Now 

Maggie Striz Calnin, Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision [SDEV] program director for the Healthy Air program, said that Lockridge is a great voice and has worked in the area for the long time on this problem.

“[The zip code] 48217 is one of the zip codes that our organization includes,” Striz Calnin said. “As far as the state of the environment [in that area] there are significant, cumulative pollution sources. Residents, and the natural environment, have a significant exposure to environmental toxins that are in the air and in the water. We want to see that get better and see it improve.”

Striz Calnin, who described the community as “resilient,” added that while there are significant challenges that are impacting the quality of life in that area, don’t be fooled—the people are not easily discouraged.

“It’s a really vibrant, strong, incredibly wonderful community,” she said. “It is a place that should be valued and people should want to come and visit, and experience, and work with us.”

Emma Lockridge

Lockridge knows her community’s lifespan seems to be shorter, but she finds strength in her ancestors when it comes to fighting for clean air in her family’s futures. 

“It’s generational,” she said. “I come from a family of fighters; I come from a family of doers that never sits back and just takes anything as it comes. I saw that in my mother; her resilience and how she responded to things that were out there that would come to her. Her mother did the same thing. I believe that I have that same power. That you cannot do anything to me and not get a response. So I work with other like-minded people and we organize and we’re fighters. We fight.”

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