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Data Driven Detroit (D3) provides accessible, high-quality information and analysis to drive decision-making that strengthens communities in Southeast Michigan.

Toxic Releases!

By Amy Grodin, Environmental Analyst


Total Amount of Fugitive Air Pollution Released: 1988 – 2009 from datadrivendetroit on Vimeo.

This video shows total air pollution in Detroit census tracts as monitored from 1988-2009 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). For 1988 through the mid 1990’s, heavy concentrations of toxic releases into the atmosphere can be seen throughout the city. As the year 2000 approached, most of the reported cases of air pollution in each census tract tapered off significantly. However, the video shows that several locations throughout the city have persistent air pollution releases. In Southwest Detroit specifically, air pollution is a constant problem that has actually worsened in recent years. The odors, smog, and coal dust associated with toxic air releases in this area have a significant impact on quality of life for residents.

D3’s environmental analyst created videos of Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) data over time to better understand where concentrations of toxic releases have occurred and are continuing to occur in Detroit. Toxic releases through the air have been of great concern for certain communities. TRI data related to air pollution is separated into three categories: the total amount of air pollution, point source pollution, and fugitive air pollution. According to the EPA definition, fugitive air pollution “are all releases into the air that are not released through a confined air stream. Fugitive emissions include equipment leaks, evaporative losses from surface impoundments and spills, and releases from building ventilation systems.” Point source pollution differs in that the exact location of the release is known. A smoke stack would be an example of a point source location. The Total Toxic Releases measure shown above aggregates both point source and fugitive pollution.

Data Driven Detroit (D3) has been working throughout 2011 to collect and analyze environmental data specific to Detroit, thanks to a grant from the Erb Family Foundation. The environmental indicators collected are specially aimed to support environmental initiatives occurring in Detroit. Examples of indicators collected thus far include Detroit brownfield sites, rainwater infrastructure locations (rain barrels and cisterns), and TRI from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In addition to air quality data, TRI data consists of a multitude of indicators such as point source pollution (pollution exits through a specific location), recycled toxic materials, energy reuse from toxic chemicals, and surface water discharges of toxic materials. Asthma and other health related issues can be attributed to pollution existing in the atmosphere, water, and soil. D3 has partnered with various community based organizations including the Sierra Club-Detroit Chapter and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice to make data publically accessible to assist communities in monitoring pollution as a public health concern. D3 has also provided data to citizens requesting information surrounding the environmental health of certain properties. The physical health of the population is a concern in many communities throughout Detroit. An understanding of types of pollution over time is important to protect community health and from toxic chemicals.

4 comments to Toxic Releases!

  • Chad

    Focusing on the TRI alone results in too much focus on industrial pollution, while there are other data sources, such as EPA’s National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA; http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/natamain/) that account for “area” (small industry), on-road mobile (cars, trucks, lawnmowers), and nonroad (construction equipment, lawnmowers) seperately. TRI can lead to a focus on high-visibility polluters, but for some pollutants these sources are not the major contributors to the air quality problem. In locations near major highways, concentrations of many different pollutants are elevated.

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