Southend Air Quality

Air Quality and Injustice

Henry Ford's Rouge plant attracted workers from all over the world. The Southend became the landing place for many of these individuals due to its convenient proximity to the plant. Many of Dearborn and Southeastern Michigan's immigrant communities first settled in Dearborn's Southend before moving to other parts of the region. The Southend has a unique history and culture that developed to meet the needs of newcomers to the area.

By the 1950s, Dearborn's Southend had already earned a reputation for heavy pollution due to its position between the Rouge factory and the Levy Company. This lead the city to attempt to rezone the area to an industrial park. The city began a campaign to force residents out of their homes, including the condemning one of the only affordably priced apartment complexes, pushing over 100 tenants out into communities as far away as Ypsilanti where they did not have access to transportation or translation services.

At this time, the city also began to deny permits for residents seeking to repair their houses. This drove the overall value of homes in the Southend down, and justified the city in forcing residents out of houses that were now in condemnable conditions. By driving down property values, the city was able to putting residents in an impossible position. They could not afford to buy a new home anywhere else in Dearborn with the small amount of money received from their homes in the Southend. Moving further away from Dearborn meant moving away from family, community, and language resources necessary for survival.

Mayor Hubbard is quoted as referring to the Southend as Dearborn's "dark residents", extending antiBlack rhetoric to include the typically darker skinned Yemeni and Palestinian immigrants.

Southend residents fought back, and eventually won the battle against the city to prevent rezoning. However, environmental quality issues persist in the area. Between the restricted authority of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) and stalled legislation intended to address the cumulative nature of air pollution, Dearborn's Southend continues to be subjected to air quality concerns, and is currently listed among the most polluted cities in the United States. The impacts of environmental racism and classism can be seen in the higher rates of respiratory illness concentrated in Dearborn's low income Arab populations.

Further frustrating the issue is the lack of affordable healthcare available to Dearborn's residents. Many of the low income immigrants in Dearborn do not rely on public health benefits, and go bankrupt as a result of medical bills. One city service that used to help bridge this gap was the city's public health department, which was shuttered in 2011 as a direct result of increased expenditures on the police department.

Dearborn's COVID Response

COVID-19 is a virus that attacks the respiratory system, and spreads when individuals are in close proximity to one another. In addition to other factors, exposure to fine particulate pollution (like the kinds of particulate matter being dumped on Dearborn's Southend) increases the death rate of individual exposed to COVID significantly. Dearborn's least affluent, and least white neighborhoods are the most in danger of death.

To address the rise in Dearborn's COVID cases, the Dearborn Chief of Police recommended Dearborn residents call 911 in response to perceived violations of the governor's orders. By involving police officers, this increases the risk of interactions which result in incarceration. Carceral settings are notorious for spreading COVID, with infection rates more than five times higher than the national average. While response to COVID is important, the solution cannot include a system which actively powers the spread of the disease.

It is time to recognize and address the ways in which environmental racism, classism, and xenophobia have shaped Dearborn's Southend. It's time to invest in Southend community wellness. An investment that includes equitable access to healthcare, and enforceable environmental protections addressing cumulative air quality concerns for these residents. It's time for the city to step up and do our part to protect our communities.

For a more complete history of Dearborn's Southend we recommend the article Southend Struggles: Converging Narratives Of An Arab/Muslim American Enclave by Sally Howell.