Conservation, Justice, and Public Health Advocates tell EPA to Reconsider Detroit Ozone Pollution Proposal

Crucial for severely asthma burdened communities in/around Detroit

Nick Leonard,
Renner Barsella,

Detroit, MI - 20 organizations, led by Sierra Club and Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, submitted comments urging the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reconsider their proposal to redesignate the Detroit area from ozone nonattainment because it would prematurely halt state planning and actions to improve air quality. The EPA recently announced a proposal to approve Michigan’s maintenance plan and redesignate the seven-county Southeast Michigan area to attainment regarding the 2015 National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) for ground-level ozone. This would end the need for Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) to plan for reductions of ozone precursors such as nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), actions that are crucial because of the severe asthma burden already experienced by environmental justice communities in and around Detroit.

“Addressing ozone pollution for me and my neighbors is absolutely crucial,” said Vicki Dobbins, Sierra Club environmental justice leader and resident of 48217, Michigan’s most polluted zip code. “Our community faces disproportionate asthma and lung cancer rates because we’re dealing not only with high levels of ozone pollution, but also because of long-term exposure and cumulative impacts from numerous industrial pollution sources. The EPA should think twice before walking away from the Ozone pollution problem in Detroit.”

The comments encourage EPA not to rush to declare the area’s ozone problem solved without a solid basis in evidence, pointing out that EPA based its proposal on monitored ozone concentrations from 2019-2021, but failed to show that ozone pollution will remain below the federal air quality standards, rather than being a temporary downward blip due to cooler temperatures and higher humidity as well as temporary reductions in ozone causing pollution due to the economic slowdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. All but one of the area’s monitors actually showed ozone concentrations increased between 2019 and 2020, and the Port Huron monitor also showed increased ozone concentrations from 2020 to 2021.

“Ozone pollution precursors like nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds contribute to the asthma hotspot we see in and around Detroit” said Julie Quinn, MD with Michigan Clinicians for Climate Action. “For the sake of our public health, EPA and EGLE should not stop protecting us all from ozone pollution prematurely.”

Parts of Wayne County and St. Clair County are also in nonattainment for sulfur dioxide, meaning residents in the area are subject to multiple harmful sources of air pollution that create dangerous cumulative impacts on human health, making ozone pollution mitigation even more important for the Detroit area.

"Ozone pollution can ruin a perfectly good bike ride. It prevents our members' full enjoyment of bicycling outdoors in Southeast Michigan,” said John Lindenmayer, executive director of the League of Michigan Bicyclists. “I hope the EPA decides to re-prioritize clean air, outdoor recreation, and environmental justice for the people of Southeast Michigan." 

About the Sierra Club

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of 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