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From the Michigan Citizen: Sweating it out together

Published in the Michigan Citizen
• Sun, Apr 08, 2012

By Gregg Newsom

This is the latest in a series of columns discussing the Environmental Justice Principles drafted and adopted by delegates to the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership Summit held Oct. 24-27, 1991.

This week, I’m honored to be writing from Albuquerque, N.M., while attending the 13th annual White Privilege Conference. “The WPC is a conference that examines challenging concepts of privilege and oppression and offers solutions and team-building strategies to work toward a more equitable world.” This year’s conference was extremely well attended by a diversity of people from all over North America and the world. My personal intention in attending is to continue to learn, study and reflect upon what it means to be a white male anti-racist/anti-oppression ally to the majority Black and People of Color communities, organizations and individuals I share with in Detroit. I attended the conference with my partner, Angela Newsom, who serves as the program director for People’s Kitchen Detroit.

We haven’t left Detroit very often since we began sharing here six years ago, so rather than fly we decided to drive to Albuquerque with our 3-year-old. As we traveled across the country, I reflected upon this week’s environmental justice principle. EJ principle No. 6 states: “Environmental Justice demands the cessation of the production of all toxins, hazardous wastes and radioactive materials, and that all past and current producers be held strictly accountable to the people for detoxification and the containment at the point of production.” I thought about the extreme proliferation of environmental toxins that are rampant in our city, due to the collapse of the auto industry, the dishonorable departure of business and industry that left behind hazardous wastes and the continued operation of the Detroit Incinerator and the catastrophic effects of toxic industries in and around zip code 48217.

The week before we left, local news reported the water department and hazardous materials crew was flushing the sewer system around the Detroit Medical Center due to what was most likely massive quantities of illegally dumped paint products. As the miles pealed away on our odometer, I reflected upon my own family’s exposure to toxins since we moved to Detroit in 2006. Last year, due to a cracked-opened “manhole” in the basement of a home we were renting in North Corktown/Briggs, we were slowly poisoned by sewage gas. Unaware, over a couple of months we found ourselves slowly becoming more and more sick. Thanks to a knowledgeable friend, we eventually discovered the leak, sealed it and began the process of detoxification.

Due to our destination being focused on privilege and oppression, as we drove, I thought about our own privilege when confronted with the inescapable toxins we are exposed to daily and how other families in Detroit who have been exposed over generations to hazardous materials by eating, breathing and living in the arsenal of democracy’s dumping ground must be affected. I also thought about the privilege of being able to leave Detroit for close to two weeks as we began to breathe easier in the noticeably fresh air outside of the city.

We began to breathe easier, sadly, until we reached the so-called heartland of the USA. As we traveled through increasingly rural areas, we began to pass by large industrial farms and started to see Monsanto signs everywhere. Monsanto is the world’s largest producer of genetically modified seeds and the chemicals farmers use to grow them. Being food justice activists, I admit we may have been looking for these signs, but what we didn’t expect to see was just how prolific Montsanto is and how daunting it was to pass by large chemical storage facilities and industrial spraying machines.

Dismayed and slightly depressed by the corporate domination of the landscape even here, we pulled into our first motel for the night. Exhausted and simply looking forward to rest, we entered our room and were immediately hit by the intense chemical smell of disinfectant and an over-the-top sickly-sweet scent I can only assume was intended to cover up the disinfectant. Being too tired to load everything back into the car and find another, less toxic room, we laid our heads on pillowcases washed in chemical-laden industrial detergent. Waking with a massive headache, Angela’s first words in the morning were, “We need to get out of here as soon as possible!”

I agreed and we got back on the road immediately. Passing by more industrial agricultural spraying equipment, I began to notice how “blown-out” the small towns were we passed through. Trying to find solace in the fact that these small-town ruins somehow reminded me of home, it struck me that while our country’s urban areas are vilified due to their poor populations and environmental hazards, many rural areas seem to be in the same situation.

I returned to this week’s environmental principle and mourned over the immense and seemingly impossible idea of cessation of chemical production. While our privilege affords us the opportunity to attempt to reduce our family’s exposure to toxins and hazardous wastes, it appears communities in both urban and rural areas are under attack by companies like Monsanto, whose Web site lies that they are “meeting the needs of today while preserving the planet for tomorrow.”

With the U.S. government’s strings being pulled by corporations, the idea of their being held accountable to people brings more frustration. The idea that these companies would implement detoxification or that they would be honest with us in any way seems nearly impossible. Our entire culture, oppressed and privileged, urban and rural alike, has become dependent upon the very products that are killing us. While corporations dominate the government, media, production and distribution of goods, from food to cleaning products, we are all threatened and literally under their control.

As my family and I enjoyed Albuquerque and learned and shared at the White Privilege Conference, Detroit’s city council was negotiating a lose-lose agreement with the state, the outcome of which will most likely be known by the time this prints. While I don’t want to be a naysayer and strongly support the efforts of those who labor to block it, this agreement and the push to put more of our resources, including our water and our children’s education, on the auction block for profit, often appears unstoppable. As I tuned into the local news and social media while away, my personal frustration over the impossibility of not only the cessation, accountability and detoxification from toxic and hazardous waste, but also from the corporate domination of our lives continued to grow.

Thankfully, this frustration shifted toward the end of the conference. Two days before our departure, we were extremely honored to share in a traditional community healing ceremony. This indigenous ceremony, called a Temazcal, shares some common ground with a Native American sweat lodge. As Angela and I sat in the extreme heat and purged many of the toxins from our bodies. I finally found some resolve to my frustration and a slight release from the overwhelming oppressive systems we are all connected.

As the community that gathered in the Temazcal released their pain and anger through songs and screams that seemingly reverberated across and through our diverse generations, I found solace in the fact that, while at the moment these massive systems and corporations would deny accountability, each of us can reframe our relationships so we can grow an accountability to one another. Through singing, screaming and sweating out our pain, depression, anxiety, anger and loss, through the healing many of us already know we need, we can learn more about each other and what’s more, we can overcome. As I backed out of the small door of the Temazcal, I suddenly looked forward to returning home, even in the face of the toxic politics and environment, to learn more, share more, sweat more and heal more.

Gregg Newsom is the communications coordinator for the Detroit Food Justice Task Force. Visit www.detroitfoodjustice.com

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April 9, 2012   No Comments

Strong Odor Near DMC Likely from Paint Product Dumped in Sewer

Want to get as many eyes on this one as possible. I can’t fathom the gall/lack of awareness it would take to pour large quantities of toxic materials down a sewer. Apparently the crew who are rebranding Detroit need to step up their outreach efforts to those who consider the city is a dumping ground. While hazmat suits most likely make for great ruin porn, I don’t think its what the creative class has in mind when considering which urban areas to repopulate.

All ‘snarkyness’ aside, speaking as someone whose entire family was poisoned by Detroit sewage gas that leaked into a North Corktown basement, if you smell something out of the ordinary take action and call straight away. Detroit has been used as a dumping ground for decades so we should pay attention to our noses. ~Gregg 

Published : Tuesday, 20 Mar 2012, 12:37 PM EDT

DETROIT (WJBK) — Flushing the sewer system around the Detroit Medical Center, the water
department and a hazardous materials crew took action Tuesday.
We’re told people started smelling a strong odor in the area around 7:00 a.m., but nobody called the fire department until 9:30 a.m. They said it was likely some type of paint product and a whole lot of it.
“Someone dumped something in the sewers, probably about a mile north of here,” said Detroit Fire Acting Chief 1 Bob Valgoi. “To me, it sort of smelled like a lacquer, like a paint thinner kind of an odor.”
“It had to be a big volume. It had to be something really big.”
It was a big concern for people in the area. Fortunately, testing showed nobody was in danger, but the strong odor lasted for hours.
“We’re monitoring all the sewers along here to check for explosive levels and volatile chemical levels, and all we’re getting is readings of some kind of a paint product,” Valgoi said.
“We want to make sure that our people are safe. We did some air monitoring inside, check out the odor complaints, and, so far, we haven’t found anything,” said Tom Perez, director of Environmental Health and Safety with Wayne State University.
It’s not clear who is even responsible for dumping massive amounts of potentially hazardous materials into the city’s sewer.
“These are our sewer pipes, so this is going to the wastewater treatment plant, and hopefully they know how to handle it there before it goes into the Detroit River,” said Melissa Damaschke with the Sierra Club.
She works to protect the Great Lakes and urges people to report illegal dumping.
“Make sure you call 911 so that … person can be prosecuted for illegal dumping, and then, of course, that also notifies the proper officials so that it can be taken care of right away,” Damaschke said.
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March 21, 2012   No Comments

#DetroitFuture Eat And Tweet Tuesday

Tuesday, March 27, 2012 from 1:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Cass Corridor Commons/First Unitarian Universalist Church of Detroit
4605 Cass Ave Detroit, MI 48201

So you finally got that twitter account set up and you’ve even made a few tweets!

Now what?

If you’re looking for a community of twitter users to practice your tweeting skilz with, #detroitfuture’s Eat and Tweet is the place for you to be!

Join us on the last Tuesday of the month (March 27th) for the Eat and Tweet event of the season! Bring your lunch with you and we’ll provide the tea and internet! This month we’ll be discussing “”Free-Range Chick: The Politics of Gender in our Food System”

If you don’t have a twitter account or know basic twitter lingo/skills be sure to bring a twitter user you can team up with for the event!

And don’t worry! If you can’t make it to this month’s Eat and Tweet Tuesday, next month we’ll be doing our traditional Twitter and Tea Tuesday!

Join us!

Learn more and register!

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March 21, 2012   No Comments