GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – As Michigan public schools struggle under Republican Party budget cuts, a new study released earlier this month revealed that most of the state’s public school students are exposed to high levels of pollution.

Researchers at the University of Michigan studied the state’s 3,660 K-12 schools and found that 62.5 percent were located in areas with high levels of industrial pollution.

Scarce resources force officials to build new schools in areas with low property values often located near large sources of pollution or waste like highways or industrial plants.

This situation may disproportionately affect students of color, according to the study. Scrutiny of the 10 worst pollution sites in the state found that less than half of the students in those areas are white, while more than eight in 10 are African American and more than six in 10 are Latino.

The research also linked exposure to high amounts of pollution to high rates of poor health and to low performance on required standardized testing. The schools with most exposure to industrial pollution showed low attendance numbers and the highest numbers of students who failed to meet the state’s minimum education requirements.

Michigan currently ignores Environmental Protection Agency guidelines for environmental quality analysis during the process of considering sites for building new schools.

So far, Michigan’s Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has shown little interest in regulating pollution or enforcing Michigan’s environmental protection laws as indicated by his appointment of Dan Wynant as Director of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Wynant is known for trying to block federal enforcement of the Clean Water Act and for promoting laws that would have blocked local efforts to regulate industrial farms.

The Snyder administration has shown that it will neither take special steps to protect the state’s children nor improve the quality of the state’s public schools.


Joel Wendland-Liu
Joel Wendland-Liu

Joel Wendland-Liu teaches courses on diversity, intercultural competence, migration, and civil rights at Grand Valley State University in West Michigan. He is the author of The Collectivity of Life: Spaces of Social Mobility and the Individualism Myth, and a former editor of Political Affairs.