To go on a toxic tour of Detroit, Michigan is to view a cityscape through a lens that few people ever wear. The tour, led by Charles Stokes of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, spans everything from waste incinerators and abandoned factories to river parks and urban farms, giving participants a glimpse into both the most nightmarish and most gorgeous scenes of Detroit.
To schedule a tour for your group, contact Charles at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-833-3935 x57.
For all media enquiries, please e-mail email@example.com or extension x23.
Check out a map of the Toxic Tour here—try viewing it in both ‘map’ and ‘satellite’ modes:
An excerpt from DWEJ’s guide of the tour:
Neglect and abuse continue to reduce much of Detroit’s infrastructure to a more advanced state of decay with each passing year. Like a patient with a chronic life-threatening illness, but dressed up in a nice suit, having well-polished shoes and clean fingernails, the development in Detroit’s city center is held up as evidence of progress while the decay of the wrecking ball and bulldozer approaches for the blighted neighborhoods and moribund manufacturing complexes which cover large tracts of the city.
Sites on the Tour:
Detroit Waste Incinerator
5700 Russel St.
The Detroit Waste Incinerator is the largest solid waste incinerator in the United States. Built in 1986 and financed with $440 million in bonds, it now burns an estimated 2,800 tons of commercial waste each day. The incinerator operates at a financial loss to the city—it costs $120 per ton to incinerate waste at the Detroit facility, compared to a national average of $57 per ton. The incinerator emits approximately 1,800 tons of pollutants annually and asthma rates surrounding the facility are three to four times the national average. There are 10 schools within a mile radius of the site.
The incinerator employs 150 people and has a capacity of one million tons of waste per year—since Detroit does not produce that much trash, the city imports waste from the surrounding suburbs and Canada. Detroiters pay as much as 5 – 7 times as much as the suburbs for their trash disposal and 14 times as a private haulers who have their trash burned at the incinerator. J.D. Lindeberg, an environmental assessor, estimates that Detroit could make $10 to $20 per ton and create 6 to 10 times as many jobs with combined curbside recycling and landfilling. Although closing the incinerator would eliminate about 50 jobs, a materials recovery facility would create 123 new jobs and an additional 300 jobs would be created through recycling-based manufacturing. Yet by not conserving and recycling, we all continue to ‘feed’ the incinerator.
1600 Clay St.
Located in the historic Russell Industrial Center, the Russell Bazaar is an example of brownfield redevelopment—and a lively, open-market style space for local artists and small businesses to sell their wares. The site was originally the home of Murray Manufacturing, a major manufacturer of car bodies and parts in the early twentieth century, but it later housed manufacturers of parts for fighter planes and washing machines. The complex was sold to a printer in 1991, was damaged by a tornado in 1998, and stood vacant for several years before being sold to Dennis Kefallinos in 2003. Since then, Kefallinos has transformed it into an artist’s oasis, with a bazaar on one side and a vibrant artist community on the other housing about 150 vendors and crafters of all kinds, Detroit based art galleries, local music, and rentable venues.
on the corner of E Grand Blvd and Concord St
The Packard Plant is the largest abandoned building and the most infamous example of industrial ruin in the United States. Once employing 40,000 workers and containing a grocery store and two schools within its complex, the 35-acre site had been abandoned since 1957 after fifty years of manufacturing luxury vehicles. It was the site of the filming of The Transformers. Before that, the Packard Plant has attracted graffiti artists, rave partiers, and metal scrappers, as well as tourists and photographers interested in “ruin porn.” Although the last is hard to define, it most often refers to what can be regarded as disrespectful treatment of destruction sites as interesting sights rather than problems which should be remedied. Though there are rumors that the owner of the Packard Plant, Dominic Christini, is ready to tear down the plant, it is unclear that he has the money or the permits to do so. (See Detroit Free Press article.).
“When they start to do something with this, you’ll know that Detroit is on its way back.” – Charles Stokes, DWEJ
Budd Thyssen Plant
at the corner of Charlevoix and Conner St.
Called ‘the new Packard Plant,’ Budd Thyssen shut down in 2006 after more than 80 years of operation. Budd is a major auto parts manufacturer that spearheaded the transition from wood car bodies to an all-steel design. They produce components for approximately half of the passenger cars and trucks made in North America.
Read an excerpt from Punching Out: One Year at a Closing Auto Plant, a book by Paul Clemens about the closing of the Budd Thyssen Plant here. (Published in Business Week.)
Old Uniroyal Site
at the corner of E Jefferson and E Grand Boulevard.
Uniroyal operated a tire manufacturing plant on this site from 1941 to 1978. At its peak it employed 10,000 workers and produced 60,000 tires per day. In 1981, the city of Detroit acquired the land for $5 million and then spent $3.6 million to demolish the structures and clear the site. In early 2012, after years of controversy over who was responsible for the remediation of this brownfield site, CBS Detroit reported that the land is finally being redeveloped.
A 982-acre island park in the Detroit River and the scenic lunch spot for the Toxic Tour.
Earthworks Urban Farm
1264 Meldrum St.
According to outreach coordinator Shane Bernardo, Earthworks Urban Farm was Brother Rick Samyn’s response to one of the Detroiters he served at Capuchin Soup Kitchen who one day asked which gas station they were going to buy the food from. Samyn wanted to show his patrons that “food doesn’t come from gas stations, it comes from the Earth,” Bernardo said. Today, Earthworks grows over 100,000 seedlings each season—about 6,000 to 7,000 pounds of food in 2010. The fresh produce is then served up in meals at the soup kitchen. Programs of Earthworks include Project FRESH, which hosts weekly markets for families at local health clinics; Youth Farm Stand, which engages teens in farming and then selling what they grow; and the Earthworks Agricultural Training (EAT) program, a training program for adults that want to get involved with agribusiness.
“Food doesn’t come from gas stations, it comes from the Earth.” – Shane Bernardo, Earthworks Outreach Coordinators
Marathon Oil Refinery
1300 South Fort St.
Marathon’s is the only oil refinery in Michigan, sited in 48217, the most contaminated zip code in the state. Marathon recently announced a $2.2 billion expansion of the facility to accommodate the tar sands crude that will be flowing from the strip mines of Canada’s boreal forests to southeast Michigan. Tar sands, which are basically dirt with particles of tar in it, is one of the dirtiest and least efficient ways of getting oil. Huge expanses of forest in Canada have been removed- often too quickly for logging companies to use for wood-and hundreds of thousands more acres are in danger. This method produces 33 to 40% more greenhouse gases, and a single barrel (one eighth of a ton of oil) takes two tons of dirt and up to 4.5 barrels of water to produce.
The project will increase their refining capacity to 400,000 gallons of transportation fuel per day and create 135 new jobs, an insubstantial number for a city as big as Detroit, especially in light of the many health detriments caused by the refinery and its consistently low percentages of Detroit employees. For the low-income, mostly African American residents of 48217, the expansion represents yet another example of their community being forgotten, their bodies exposed to a pervasive toxicity while industry and the state look the other way. “Cancer has swept through this neighborhood, and it’s still alive and well,” Charles Stokes explained on one tour. “As we try to move away from fossil fuels, it seems like corporations like Marathon Oil are digging in.”
Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant
9300 West Jefferson Ave.
The Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant is the largest single site wastewater treatment facility in the United States, serving four million people in southeast Michigan. First constructed in the 1930s, the plant was designed to receive flows from a large area; wastewater is collected in 28,500 miles of sewer pipe in Detroit and surrounding suburbs. Neighbors’ major complaint is that the plant burns sludge rather than composting it and that there is a noxious smell of sulfur surrounding the facility.
More than 25 percent of all merchandise trade between the U.S. and Canada passes over Ambassador Bridge, making it the busiest border crossing in North America and a major source of air pollution. The bridge is owned by the Detroit International Bridge Co., which is controlled by billionaire Manuel “Matty” Moroun of Grosse Point. A 2004 Border Transportation Partnership study showed that the border crossing is the source of 150,000 jobs and $13 billion in annual production. However, the 10,000 commercial vehicles that cross the bridge on a typical weekday also emit diesel particulate matter that creates smog and congestion in some of Michigan’s poorest neighborhoods.
where the River Rouge spills into the Detroit River
Originally a marsh-filled peninsula at the mouth of the River Rouge, Zug Island earned its namesake from Samuel Zug, who bought the land in 1836 for a luxurious estate. Zug cut a small canal that connected the River Rouge and the Detroit River, but his family soon found the island to be too damp for their liking and sold the property to industries that proceeded to use it as a dumping ground for decades. Though environmental problems are pervasive and neighbors report numerous cases of asthma and cancer, conditions have improved since the height of ironmaking when Zug was literally “a smoking island.”