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Detroit air pollution disproportionately affects African-American children

Nathan Bishop
Marathon's Detroit Oil Refinery, the only oil refinery in Michigan. The activities here have been linked with increased rates of cancer in surrounding neighbourhoods.

Detroit ranked tenth on a list of worst metropolitan areas in the U.S. for asthma attacks in African-American children due to oil and gas exposure. That’s according to a new study, “Fumes Across the Fence-Line,” released by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Clean Air Task Force, and the National Medical Association.


African-American children in metro Detroit suffered 2,402 asthma attacks and missed 1,751 school days due to asthma per year. Dallas-Fort Worth topped the list with 8,059 asthma attacks and 5,896 school days missed among African-American children. Other cities on the list were Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, and Chicago.

According to the report, toxic air pollutants emitted by oil and natural gas facilities include benzene, ethylbenzene, hydrogen sulfide gas, and formaldehyde. These pollutants are linked to a range of health problems such as cancer and respiratory disorders. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) released by oil and gas facilities are precursors of ozone smog, which can impair lung function and trigger asthma attacks.

Michigan’s only oil refinery, Marathon Oil Refinery, is located in southwest Detroit. David Wiggins is a resident of the affected area and a member of the local Detroit NAACP. "We have to stop sugarcoating the issue.There has to be direct advocacy measures of which I'm glad the NAACP is taking the lead on, but we have to develop policies that are eco-friendly," said Wiggins.


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