GR neighborhood ‘environmentally unjust’ hot spot

Grand Rapids

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — In the quaint Roosevelt Park neighborhood, passersby can see bicycle riders, kids on porches and families on the go. It’s what they don’t see that may alarm them the most.

“It was a bit of an eye-opener,” said Bill Wood of the West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

He was referring to a study published Thursday by University of Michigan graduate students that identifies hot spots of environmental injustice across the state. Those spots are normally low-income areas that are disproportionately vulnerable to toxic water and air pollution, heavy traffic and hazardous waste faculties.

Roosevelt Park, a predominately Latino neighborhood in southwest Grand Rapids, is one of them because of its close proximity to US-131 and a nearby waste management facility.

“I think that there’s a perception that always southeast Michigan, Detroit is the place with all the pollution, the most inequity with regard to people of color being affected by the pollution and so suddenly we’ve got seven of those 10 spots on this side of the state,” Wood said.

In addition to Grand Rapids, some of the West Michigan areas flagged for environmental injustice were in Battle Creek, Benton Harbor, Kalamazoo and Muskegon.

environmental injustice study heat map
This heat map from a University of Michigan study shows areas of environmental injustice in red.

24 Hour New 8 went door to door in Roosevelt Park Wednesday, hoping to speak with some neighbors about the study. Some didn’t want to talk on camera and others weren’t home. A spokesperson for the neighborhood association spoke on their behalf.

“Roosevelt Park, compared to the rest of Grand Rapids, is a lower-income neighborhood but that doesn’t mean our neighbors don’t deserve what everyone else in the city deserves,” Amy Browser of the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association said.

Brower said residents are owed an equal shot at breathing in clean air so that they don’t develop health problems.

“Our neighborhood, over 50% are youth, 18 and under,” Browner said. “So that has a huge impact and we need to pay attention this and find solutions.”

Experts said building what is called a green wall may be the first start.

“Put up vegetation, primarily like trees and bushes and things like that and then monitoring the air,” Wood said.

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