Breathe Free Detroit

Who we are

Breathe Free Detroit is a community- and grassroots-led campaign formed to shut down the Detroit incinerator, Detroit Renewable Power (DWP). For nine of the last ten years, we worked with communities around DWP to uncover its financial ties, research the impact of its pollution on public health, and encourage decision-makers to shut it down.  On March 27th, 2019, after decades of community activism, and the work of Breathe Free Detroit’s founding organizations – Zero Waste Detroit, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and the Ecology Center – the operators of DWP announced the facility’s immediate closure.  Following this massive victory for the campaign and the community, we continue to pursue a just transition  to zero waste, both for residents living near the facility and former incinerator workers.

Community Land and Housing Justice

Due in large part to DWP’s toxic emissions, nearby communities have been overburdened by pollution. Children living near the incinerator are five times more likely than other Michigan children to be admitted to a hospital for asthma, and the pollution from DWP has been connected with nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, decreased lung function, coughing, difficulty breathing, and premature death in the surrounding community.  After suffering for years from the impacts of DWP, we believe these community members deserve a neighborhood free from its pollution. Unfortunately, in the absence of the incinerator, property values in their neighborhoods have increased, and real estate prospectors have begun working to gentrify this community. The Breathe Free Detroit campaign works within the communities surrounding the closed incinerator to combat gentrification by helping build a Community Land Trust, strengthening community ownership to land that is now more desirable, and working to protect longtime residents and businesses so they remain a part of their community fabric. 

A Just Transition to Zero Waste

Now that we have ended municipal waste incineration in Detroit, we are working to build new zero waste systems for the City. Some of the communities most affected by the incinerator’s pollution have practiced zero waste for decades as a form of resistance to the facility. These residents remain centered in community-led efforts to establish sustainable zero waste systems, which create ten times more jobs than using incinerators and landfills. As the zero waste industry and end-use markets are re-developed, we strive to ensure that this growth takes place in low-resource and hardest-hit communities.

We continue to advocate for the creation of equitable opportunities in the development of compost-related businesses. We are working with the city to develop a multi-scaled composting system that would:

  • Create jobs; 
  • Create opportunities for worker-owned businesses and co-ops;
  • Increase opportunities for urban farmers to sell soil as a resource; and 
  • Improve resource recovery throughout Detroit by creating many smaller-scale, centrally-located neighborhood systems.

The Basics – Closed in 2019!

Incinerator:  Detroit Renewable Power

Location: 5700 Russell St, Detroit, MI 48211

Pounds of pollutants (annually): total HAPs 33,369.50 (2017)

Mercury: 21.97(2017)

PM2.5: 78,390.54 (2017)

Lead: 155.49 (2017)

NOx: 2,424,897.60 (2017)

Community: 82% minority, 66% below poverty line

Critical Date: (Permit expiration date): shut down in March, 2019

The organizer

KT Andresky is Breathe Free Detroit’s Campaign Organizer. She is a seasoned activist who has lived in the shadow of the incinerator for over a decade. She works to educate and uplift her community by carrying out public engagement, public education, and community action campaigns. KT spent the previous years of her career teaching in Detroit’s urban farms and school gardens, reinforcing a sense of self-reliance, community engagement, and lessons from nature. She also founded The People’s Organization Against Incineration in 2008, and in 2011 hosted artists of the U.S. Social Forum, who created sunflower protest signs at The Yes Farm, her community art and agriculture space. KT brings deep-seeded environmental consciousness and creativity to her passion for growing a healthy and equitable Detroit.

In the news

Detroit incinerator loses its permits to operate

The State of Michigan has revoked the permits to operate the Detroit trash incinerator.

For decades, neighbors complained about the odors coming from the site in Detroit. The trash incinerator had been cited many times before the company shut down the incinerator almost two years ago.

Published by Michigan Radio

Detroit’s Prison Population Will Soon Be Stuck Living Next to a Toxic Site

“Living in Detroit has given me a deep understanding that fights against the prison system and police are also fights against poverty and pollution.”

Published by Grist

Breathe Free Detroit Media Mentions

Compilation of media mentions from Breathe Free Detroit. It Covers print and online, radio, and television.