Detroit’s health at risk with 161 dirty air days in 2015

Media Contacts
Annalise Dobbelstein

Environment Michigan Research and Policy Center

DETROIT, MI – Air pollution remains a major threat to our health, according to a new report from Environment Michigan Research & Policy Center, Our Health at Risk: Why Are Millions of Americans Still Breathing Unhealthy Air? In 2015, people here in Detroit experienced 161 unhealthy air pollution days, increasing the risk of premature death, asthma attacks and other adverse health impacts.

“Even one day with unhealthy air is too many,” said Annalise Dobbelstien. “Burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and gas threatens our health.”

The report comes during National Public Health Week, a celebration of efforts to tackle the underlying causes of disease – like air pollution – and ensure that all people have a chance to live long and healthy lives.

Although our air is less polluted than it was 30 years ago, dirty air is still a major health problem. Despite that fact, President Trump is taking an axe to important programs that could help clean up our air. In just the last month, the Trump Administration has:

  • Instructed the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan, the largest step the United States has ever taken to cut dangerous global warming pollution;

  • Proposed to cut the budget of the Environmental Protection Agency by 31 percent, a “get out of jail free card” for polluters;

  • Instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to roll back federal clean cars standards that were supposed to prevent 6 billion metric tons of global warming pollution; and

  • Told the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling.

These actions will have significant health impacts. Blocking the Clean Power Plan alone will slow progress in cleaning our air – leading to 3,600 additional premature deaths, 90,000 more asthma attacks in children, and 300,000 more missed work and school days by 2030.

“Make no doubt about it: the new executive orders and bills being introduced by this administration will lead to an increase in air pollution and climate pollution. If we rollback clean air protections now, it will Make America Dirty Again,” said Detroit resident Angela Youngblood, member of Moms Clean Air Force.

Our Health at Risk reviews EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot – dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas. Key findings include:

  • People in Detroit experienced 60 days with elevated smog pollution and 161 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015.

  • Based on preliminary data, 2016 was even worse. Detroit had 4 additional unhealthy smog pollution days compared to 2015.

  • Detroit ranked 1st in state for worst smog pollution in 2015 as well as ranked 28th nationally for soot pollution.

  • Across Michigan, three cities had unhealthy levels of air pollution on at least 30 of the days during 2015, including Grand Rapids with 31 days of unhealthy levels of air pollution and Sault Ste. Marie with 50 days in 2015.

Many Michiganders may be exposed to air pollution even more severe than described here because they live in local pollution “hotspots,” such as near freeways, airports and industrial facilities – facing greater health impacts. For example, people who live near highly traveled roads are at increased risk of developing lung cancer, and at greater risk of death from stroke, lung disease and heart disease.

“There’s no safe level of exposure to smog and particulate pollution,” said Elizabeth Ridlington, “Policy Analyst with Frontier Group and co-author of the report. “Elevated levels of air pollution – even levels the federal government says are safe for most people – hurt our health.”

Rep. Stephanie Chang stated, “Despite decades of progress under the Clean Air Act, residents of Detroit still suffered through over 160 days of unhealthy air last summer, leading to increased risk of asthma attacks and premature death. As the State Representative for House District 6, which includes neighborhoods facing some of Michigan’s worst air pollution, I will continue to work hand in hand with residents and environmental justice organizations to try to address the cumulative air pollution from many industries in our area and the international border truck traffic. The release of this report is yet one more reminder of how far we still have to go in order to truly address air quality in Detroit and Michigan.”

“As a mother of four, I am outraged. More air pollution means curbing the time our children spend outdoors or they might run the risk of another asthma attack or worse – given that pollution is associated with heart disease, heart attacks, stroke, pulmonary disease and neurological damage to the developing brains of babies,” said Youngblood.

Speakers urged Michigan’s elected leaders to stand up to attempts to weaken the Clean Air Act, to maintain the strength of the nation’s Clean Car Standards, and to accelerate our transition to clean energy.

“For too long, Michiganders have stood by while large corporations and Lansing poison our water and our children’s lungs. We cannot stand on the sidelines and let this happen,” said Dr. Abdul El-Sayed of Detroit.

Youngblood adds: “We also can’t afford to abandon fuel efficiency standards or else families will have to pay more at the pump…in addition to paying with their health. We must call out these rollbacks for what they are about: polluters’ profit. We have an obligation to safeguard our children’s health and protect their future. Our kids are counting on it—here in motor city and in hometowns everywhere across this country.”

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, Senators Stabenow and Peters must stand up for our health,” said Dobbelstein. “We urge our senators to defend clean air safeguards and clean cars standards so that dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”


Environment Michigan Research & Policy Center is a 501(c)(3) organization. We are dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision-makers, and help the public make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives. For more information, visit