More Corn in Your Gas Tank? & the Most Toxic Zip Code

  • You've probably seen these specially labeled pumps for cars and trucks that can use E-85, a fuel blend that's 85% ethanol. The EPA has approved the use of E-15 for vehicles that are model year 2001 or newer. (Photo by Lester Graham)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says gas stations can
now sell gasoline blended with 15% ethanol for all cars built in 2001 or after. Right now, when you fill up in Michigan, your gasoline has 10% ethanol. But as Michigan Radio’s Tracy Samilton reports, just because the EPA approved it, doesn’t mean oil companies will make it:

The EPA says E15 gasoline will help reduce our need for foreign oil.
Ethanol is made from plants like corn. The EPA only tested the effects of E15 on emissions and catalytic converters.

But ethanol is corrosive. Patrick Kelly is with the American Petroleum Institute.

He says E15 might do some harmful things, like corrode rubber parts, or make your check engine light go on for no reason. And it could end up in the wrong gas tanks, even though the EPA will require labeling.

“I mean some people still put diesel into a gasoline car, so even a very clear label may not be adequate to stop all misfueling.”

Big oil companies like Shell and Marathon plan to wait for all the
research on E15 to come in before they start producing it.

And by the way, E15 also lowers your gas mileage by about five percent. So it could have been bad timing to introduce it when gas prices are so high.

For the Environment Report, I’m Tracy Samilton.

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Many people call Detroit a “post-industrial” city.

But residents in one corner of the city still live alongside a cluster of heavy industry, and they say it’s affecting their health. Now, community members in southwest Detroit want the state to do more to find out just how extensive those health impacts might be. Sarah Cwiek reports:

State House Representative Rashida Tlaib

Michigan’s most polluted zip code


Southwest Detroit is home to a number of heavy industrial sites. Some effects can be seen with the naked eye: from hazy diesel truck fumes to an eerie metallic dust residents say has rained down on their neighborhood. But others are more subtle. The neighborhood is full of children with asthma. Residents also blame the pollution for cancer and other deadly illnesses, though such a link hasn’t been definitively established.

Now, southwest Detroit residents are pushing hard for the government to launch a thorough investigation into those potential health impacts.

“When I talk to my seniors who talk about respiratory problems, and when I hear about family members who’ve passed away with cancer, I stress the importance of trying to look at these toxins collectively.”

That’s Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat who represents the community in the State House. She wants the state to start conducting what are called cumulative impact studies of toxins whenever it issues new air permits in areas with lots of existing pollution.

“We don’t know what we’re breathing. We don’t know collectively what that means to our health.”

A recent University of Michigan study named one southwest Detroit zip code, 48217, as the state’s most toxic. Just HOW toxic? Researchers took air pollution data and assigned each zip code a “toxic burden score.” The statewide average was 56. Zip code 48217’s score was 2,576.

Tlaib isn’t the only lawmaker pushing the issue either. Detroit City Councilman Kwame Kenyatta chairs the Special Task Force on southwest Detroit.

“Southwest Detroit has been identified as one of the most polluted areas in the United States. So this is something we think the time has come.”

Kenyatta and others say emerging research also points to less tangible effects of air pollution—like diminished cognitive abilities in children. But as researchers work to untangle cause and effect, people in southwest Detroit say they’re already in the middle of a living experiment. And they want authorities to start paying attention.

For the Environment Report I’m Sarah Cwiek.