Environmental racism describes the unequal burden of environmental hazards placed on disadvantaged communities through systems, policies, and practices. In such a situation, these people disproportionately live close to sources of toxic waste—what are referred to as Locally Unwanted Land Uses (LULUs) such as sewage works, mines, landfills, power stations, major roads, and other emitters of airborne, earth, and water pollution—and suffer from greater rates of health problems, as a result.
More than a quarter of Marathon Petroleum’s 13 refineries are located in minority-majority communities. Marathon Petroleum’s Detroit refinery is located in the ZIP code 48217, where around 80% of residents are Black, 12% are Hispanic, and over 40% are considered to be in poverty. These residents also have higher rates of asthma, heart diseases, and lung cancer than in most other ZIP codes in Michigan.
This case places students in the role of fictional character Riley Novak, Marathon Petroleum’s chief environmental officer, to examine the company’s history with environmental racism, especially in Detroit, and the proposed solution—the Property Purchase Program.