Detroit Communities Win Funds for Air Filters after Toxic Release by Marathon Refinery

Environmental Justice Advocates Secured Over $200k in Funds for Air Filtration in DPS School

Justin Onwenu, 313.405.5900 

April Thomas, 206.321.3850,

Detroit, Mich., -- Today, community members and environmental justice advocates in Detroit celebrate as Michigan Department for Environment Great Lakes and Energy announced that they have reached an agreement with Marathon Petroleum over a number of violations including a toxic release incident in February 2019. Following 2019 release events and a number of protests, Marathon, community representatives from Detroit’s 48217 zip code, and the Sierra Club worked to ensure that the company’s state-mandated fines would be supplemented with community benefits reflective of community demands. 

For many years, residents and advocates have expressed concerns about poor air quality, local emergency response protocols, and air monitoring systems in the surrounding community. The package will include over $280,000 in supplemental environmental projects. At the urging of local 48217 residents the Sierra Club, and other advocates, this will include at least $200,000 to install an air filtration system in Mark Twain School, a Detroit elementary school in close proximity to the industrial facility. The remaining funds will be used for improvements to air monitoring systems.

Following a number of local meetings that identified improving air quality for children as a top community priority, local residents and advocates pushed Marathon to commit to installing a central air filtration system at Mark Twain School. They hope that the installation of this air filtration system will reduce asthma triggers, protect students from pollution and serve as a model. 

“This is great news because the performance of our school children is directly tied to the environments that they learn in,” said Justin Onwenu, environmental justice organizer with Sierra Club in Detroit who worked to secure Marathon’s commitment. “It’s also clear that we have more work to do to make sure that all communities have access to clean air, especially for children, the elderly and those with underlying health conditions.”

“For far too long our community has dealt with release events and poor air quality,” said Delores Leonard, EdD, former educator and a 48217 Community resident who worked to secure Marathon’s commitment. “This agreement will by no means make up for the decades of air pollution that we’ve faced but I’m excited to see that our children will be better protected from air pollution. Children are our future and they must be valued and protected.”

“This is actually one of Marathon’s first agreements with the state that will send direct community benefits to Michigan’s most polluted zip code,” said Theresa Landrum, a 48217 community resident who also worked to secure Marathon’s commitment. “So we are definitely excited for this community win and we will continue to fight to ensure pollution and release events are stopped before they happen.”

While Marathon and the State have come to a tentative agreement, final approval of the package will come after an EGLE 60 day comment period. Until final approval, the Sierra Club will continue to work with impacted community members and partners to ensure community demands are fully met. 


About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit