Social Injustices

“Environmental injustices are literally the buy-product of the wealthiest and most powerful peoples and countries of the world.”  

Barbara Rahder

It has been well documented that in the United States, people of color and low income communities disproportionately bear the burdens of contamination from industry that benefits the wealthy.  In Southwest Detroit — ZIP code 48217 — contamination is not only polluting the natural environment, making it difficult for wildlife to flourish; it is also affecting the health of area residents, and causing a host of serious diseases and conditions detailed on the “Price of Industrialization and Chemical Contaminants” page of this website.

The people do not even benefit financially from the industries harming their lives.

Is it really a coincidence that the most polluted ZIP code is majority African American?

The people living in this ZIP code are bearing the brunt of pollution from local industries, yet very few are benefiting economically from them. This is a low-income community, and yet disease rates (often linked to industrial pollution) are high. Thus, financial burdens of cancer treatments and other such medical needs.

More about Demographics




Social Injustices as Health Disparities

Low Birth Weights 13.1% 8.3%
*Pre-mature Births 15.1% 12.8%
Death by all causes: ages 1-17 100.7 per 100,000 19 per 100,000

In 2006, Detroit had the highest low birth weight rate in all of the U.S.

More Facts

  • In Detroit 14.0 per 1,000 infants died before their first year of life. In 2007, the infant mortality rate in Michigan was 7.9 per 1,000 (5.6 for Caucasian and 14.9 for African American)

  • 3.1% of the 40% of children tested for lead in Detroit tested positive for elevated lead levels in their bodies. The 3.1% represents 1,048 children.

Data Source

Lead Poisoning is an injustice:

In the past people got lead poisoning from paint manufactured before 1978. Today, the majority of lead comes from industrial paints, electronics, and the automobile industry. Other sources of lead today come from imported toys, cosmetics, food, candy, and jewelry.

Children are at the greatest risk for lead poisoning because their bodies absorb higher quantities of lead compared to adults. Lead will damage the brain and the nervous system, putting children who are at greater risks for lead poisoning at an educational disadvantage. Women who are pregnant that have an elevated blood lead level give birth to babies that are at a greater risk for lead poisoning as well. “THESE CHILDREN ARE MORE LIKELY TO HAVE LANGUAGE AND INTELLECTUAL DELAYS LATER IN LIFE.”

“Some recent studies claim that childhood lead poisoning can contribute to problems later in life, such as academic failure, juvenile delinquency, and high blood pressure.”

[1] (citation for both quotes)

More about lead poisoning


Another issue of discrimination SW Detroit community members are facing is the issue of abandoned buildings and houses. It is dangerous for children to walk to school because some of the abandoned homes are being used for drugs, and there have even been reports of rapists living in the abandoned homes.

Currently in Detroit there are 26,000 abandonede, unsafe buildings within a 400 yard radius of schools that need to be demolished, but there are no funds for this to happen.

Abandon home danger

Interactive Abandon Home Map


Yes, this is America. Land of the Free, at the expense of others.
Adding to the problem of abandoned homes is the Marathon Buyout of the neighborhood Oakwood Heights. Marathon bought out this neighborhood to turn it into a green buffer zone, but until the project is complete there will be added danger for the people living near that community because of the added number of vacant houses. Another issue about this buyout is the possible motives for choosing this neighborhbnnnZsewqood over the other neighborhoods that surround the Marathon refinery. According to US cenxsus data, this tract (5245) is majority white with only 7.44% African American living in this area. A nearby neighborhood (census tract 5247), no further from the Marathon facility, is 94.7% African American.

The reality is that even if the people living in the homes could financially afford to move, in most situations another African American would probably move into the home because real-estate agents typically direct African Americans to live near ghettos, and often are systemically forced to live in contaminated poorer areas.  Statistically, minorities are denied at twice the rate for mortgages than whites with the same resources and credit records.

The community of Southwest Detroit is being deprived of their livelihood and continue to face systemic injustices. Currently, the community of Downtown West Dearborn (which borders the 48217 ZIP code) is facing challenges from their city government’s Planning Commission about locating a Goodwill in that community. The opposition of locating the Goodwill in this community has been in direct response to the demographics of the region, and there is a perceived worry that the store will draw the “undesirables” to the area. Many people express their concerns about being judged and considered an “undesirable” for shopping at Goodwill. A good majority of the community members support the idea of locating a Goodwill at the center because the area location has been empty for years.


Marathon Buyout


2010 Interactive Population Map” United States Census Bureau, accessed April 15,2011,

Detroit Kids Data. “Quick Facts.” Last modified April, 2006. Accessed on April 19,2012

Editorial: A Lack of Goodwill in Dearborn? Detroit Free Press. April 9, 2012, accessed April 11, 2012,

Checker, Melissa. 2005.  “Two Race-ing the Environment, “ in Polluted Promises. 14. NYU Press Reference. Kindle Edition.

Gallagher, John. Marathon Offers to Buy out Detroit Homeowners Near Refinery Amid $2.2 Billon Expansion. Detroit Free Press, November 2, 2011, accessed April 15, 2012,

[1] Illinois Department of Public Health. “Health Beat.” Last modified October 16, 2009. Accessed April 22, 2012

Jackson, Andre J. Editorial: Take the Fear out of Walk to School. Detroit Free Press, April 19, 2012, accessed April 19, 2012

Movoto. “Neighborhood.” Modified daily. Accessed April 22, 2012

Rahder, Barbara  “Invisible Sisters: Women and Environmental Justice in Canada.” Speaking for Ourselves: Environmental Justice in Canada (eds: Argyeman, Haluza-Delay, and O’Reilly), 2009.

Sly, John and Tanner, Kristi. See 33,000 Dangerous School Buildings Threatening Detroit Schoolchildren’s Safety: Interactive Map. Detroit Free Press, April 15, 2012, accessed April 20, 2012,

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