Image: Ms. Theresa Landrum speaking at a press conference in Detroit.
Ms. Theresa Landrum is a lifelong resident of southwest Detroit and a leading community organizer around environmental justice issues in her community. She is a member of the Original United Citizens of Southwest Detroit – or simply, “48217.” Her district is home to numerous industrial, chemical and fossil fuel plants, including Marathon’s Detroit refinery.
Ms. Theresa’s account here originally appeared in our June 2022 report, Fidelity’s Fossil Fuel Problem: How One of the World’s Top Asset Managers Stays Loyal to Harmful, Dirty Energy (co-released with Action Center on Race and the Economy – ACRE). As we note in the report, two Fidelity trustees are directors of DTE and Marathon Petroleum – both major corporate polluters whose operations have harmed Ms. Theresa’s community.
Ms Theresa’s account was recorded and transcribed by LittleSis. She invites anyone interested in getting in touch with her to email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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My name is Theresa Landrum. I am from one of the areas that had been deemed the most polluted zip code in the state of Michigan – and, at one time, number three in the nation.
The area that I live in is part of a community we call the “Triple Cities,” which include Ecorse, River Rouge, and Southwest Detroit 48217. The area that I grew up in was predominantly African American, even though, growing up, we had what we called the “white side” and the “Black side.”
Over the years, growing up, we had many, many, many factories and chemical companies and aggregate companies in my community. Every day we saw brown or black air or orange skies and smelled bad odors because everyday we saw Dana Corporation, we saw BASF Chemical Company, we saw Kelsey-Hayes – we saw all of this, because it was right within our backyard. These companies supported the auto industry. There was nothing separating industry from our homes, nothing. You could walk right from your house – front porch or back porch and walk right onto industries’ property.
Over the years, they put up little cyclone fences, or they put up some kind of border wall. But mostly in my community there was no border wall, and still today there’s no border wall in some places. So, industry and community co-exist without buffers.
In latter years, the community has seen an encroachment from industry as they buy up residential-zoned areas. They have extended their footprint into our community. And these companies are heavy polluters – DTE, US Steel (formerly Great Lakes Steel), Cleveland-Cliffs (formerly Severstal, formerly AK Steel, formerly the Ford Rouge steel plant)… Our rec center (Kemeny) is right by the Marathon refinery – it’s the backdrop of the center.
We have to really be mindful that we’re a community that is overburdened with industry, and we have a lot of health issues because of that… I was just talking to one of the people that is working on reviewing the Michigan environmental screening tool. When they were looking at the demographics, they were looking at the patterns of asthma, cancer and more. Our area was not mentioned as one of the areas to have a high rate of cancer. We know that data is flawed. And it’s by design, we feel. We’ve been left out of the information gathering of the illnesses in our community.
Marathon over the years has had several incidents – 2012, 2019, 2018. In 2013, there was an explosion, a big explosion, at Marathon. One of their storage tanks blew up, and actually, I just viewed some of the old footage of the tank. It exploded and imploded. And when it did that, it disrupted the community. It was like a bomb explosion and it could be felt miles and miles away. I’m sure that impacted our underground infrastructure, because we got an old infrastructure. And we see flaring with black smoke from the stackers all the time from Marathon.
In 2019, it really brought it to the forefront when we were experiencing a polar vortex. They said it was caused by a crack in one of the stacks where the flares are. There was a release and the odor smell (the News reported) spread forty miles. The flares are the pollution controllers. Some of the stackers’ flares are used by Air Products. Air Products is the facility that’s on Marathon’s property and they lease a building that Marathon built. They produce hydrogen. Hydrogen and steam are used to purify the tar sands that come from Alberta, Canada through the Enbridge pipeline via line five. And hydrogen, that’s a dangerous chemical.
So we’re right in the middle of an area that’s heavily industrialized, and we have the fallout. We have incidents. We have DEIs – Designated Environmental Incidents. And some of the major ones that have been reported have resulted in the company (Marathon) being fined.
So to us, we’re in a dangerous zone. And we consider ourselves a sacrifice zone, because many of the residents that live here are Black low-income people.
We do see a population of Latino neighbors moving in now, and we question whether they really fully understand, when they come here to move and live, the health impacts that could possibly impact their children. Because many of these families – they’re young families, and they have young children. Many of the mothers are pregnant, and pollution has an impact on pregnant women’s health and the growth of the fetus.
We’ve experienced – in my opinion – quite a few environmental incidents that have spewed poison into the air.
We also had some dangerous chemicals coming through the sewer drains up into one of our resident’s homes and they were traced back to Marathon as the source. The chemicals were so toxic that the family was temporarily moved out of their home (for about two months as Marathon did repairs to the drain and sewer system. Marathon was also found to be one of three companies as a source for a toxic concentration of PFAS bubbling up through our sewers on Schaefer Highway, and we know that they’re (Michigan and other states) now trying to set standards to regulate PFAS in our water. It’s one of the emerging concerns, even though PFAS has been around ever since manufacturing began, because nobody understood the dangers of PFAS.
And so we have air, soil and water pollution. We have a high concentration of PFAS in our soil right where they’re building the new Gordie Howe Bridge in Delray. And that area used to be heavily industrialized as well, with many factories. And over the years the factories have closed, and they’ve torn them down, and the soil was never mitigated.