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This week, the Environment Report is taking an in-depth look at the connections between cancer and the environment.When somebody gets cancer, one of the first questions is usually "why?"Does this kind of cancer run in my family?Was it something in the water, or in the air around me?Did I get exposed to something?What would you do, or where would you go to answer these questions? We'll explore how much we really know about the connections between cancer and the chemicals in our environment.We'll also meet both regular people and scientists trying to figure out if certain towns around Michigan are struggling with more cancer cases than other places because of current or past pollution.You'll hear about whether or not turning to the courts makes sense when it seems a company might to be blame for putting people at risk of cancer or other illnesses.Finally, we'll look at where we go from here. What do researchers know, and where are they looking next?

Sierra Club report: Pollution hits southeast Michigan's poor hardest

Detroit and its downriver suburbs have some serious pollution problems.

And according to a new Sierra Club report, the greatest effects fall on poor, largely non-white communities.

The report deals with environmental justice in southeast Michigan—the idea that poor, minority communities tend to shoulder the burdens of pollution.

It details toxic emissions from six major sources in and around Detroit—five of which are clustered in the downriver area.

Sierra Club organizer Rhonda Anderson says the effects of pollution are substantial there. “It’s having a detrimental impact on the residents…in the form of cancers, asthma, heart disease, all kinds of things,” she said.

Though most of the toxic emissions from these point sources fall within legal guidelines, Anderson says their combined effects need to be considered, too.

“No one is considering the cumulative impact,” Anderson said. “What type of impact is that having on the environment…but more important to us, what is the impact on the residents that live there?”

A recent University of Michigan study found a southwest Detroit zip code, 48217, is the state’s most polluted--and among the worst in the nation.

Anderson says the Sierra Club wants regulatory agencies—like the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality—to consider overall pollution burdens and environmental justice in their decision-making.

The group is also taking some legal action. The Sierra Club is suing DTE Energy right nowfor alleged Clean Air Act violations at four coal-fired plants—including one in River Rouge, which is one of the main emissions sources near Detroit.

Anderson says they’ll “likely” file a suit against the Marathon oil refinery in southwest Detroit, too. That facility recently expanded to accommodate more oil from the controversial Alberta tar sands.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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