Most rust-belt cities are rebranding themselves with all sorts of green/sustainable accolades lately. Modest accomplishment is trumpeted with loud fanfare.
Amid this greenwashing, city councils jubilantly downplay the harm remaining heavy industries cause. Usually, they pretend they don’t exist, or that JOBS are more important so go back to bed, pollution isn’t that bad.
This deception proves effective: people often don’t believe Portland, Oregon was recently ranked the 3rd most polluted American city.
Detroit has never really downplayed it’s pollution. Romanticized are the endless hollow shells of factories crawling with Ruin Tourists eager to photograph these monolithic hulks of brick and steel; irrelevant is the contaminated soil they occupy. Few of these structures are safe to explore, but nobody cares much. They’re empty of workers, full of graffiti, and part of the new Motor City zeitgeist drawing in the Canucks and Aussies.
But just south of Detroit, surrounded by a man-made moat, there resides a fully functional black tumor of heavy industry that scorches the land, sea, and sky like some Mad Max/Matrix crossover nightmare. Pictured below is the mysterious, highly guarded, Zug Island.
Built over ancient Indigenous burial grounds, Zug Island’s steel foundries have gone from bad to worse to you’re fucking kidding me on the ecological devastation scale. Air quality around the island ranks among the worst in Michigan, containing high levels of vaporized lead and methyl ethyl ketone, which the Detroit Free Press cited for cancer and asthma cases in surrounding neighborhoods like Delray. Residents report “sparkly dust” that occasionally rains down on them from the foundries on Zug.
Several months ago I biked a long and dusty series of roads south to the island. Signs around the moat stated trespassing on the site or photography within 100 feet were NOT ALLOWED, with enforcement courtesy of the Department of Homeland Security.
Adding to the mystery of this dead zone are numerous urban legends, the most compelling of which was studied for years. In 2011 Canadian scientists along with Ontario’s Ministry of Natural Resources concluded Zug was the source of mysterious rumblings and vibrations tormenting residents across the river in Windsor.
Source: CTV News
This low-frequency hum was described as “like a diesel truck idling in your driveway…a deep, vibrating pulse that you feel more than hear” up to “50 miles away“. Unfortunately, researchers weren’t allowed to investigate the specific cause, and U.S. Steel was not forthcoming to investigative inquiries.
Environmental concerns about Zug were published as early as 1897 when an uncontrolled fire spewed smoke and dust throughout the city back before such occurrences were the norm.
In today’s post-modern information age, Zug has its own page of Yelp reviews. One entry gets a bit haunting: “In Pittsburgh I’ve never heard of steel mills causing hums like that. Some background noise, but nothing so bad it caused walls to shake. Zug Island creeps me out. Restricted access? Bridge with a guard? What are they hiding over there, space aliens?”
Wondering what the hell is going on in there is hardly hyperbole. In fact, one of Zug’s full time hazardous waste inspectors working for DTE managed to skip work for most of five years before somebody bothered noticing.
Freighter ship next to mountains of petroleum coke for steel production on Zug Island. Rouge River water surrounding ship is brown likely from nearby sewage dumping. Dated November, 2002 – Source.
Zug’s infamous legacy of urban ecological devastation won’t end soon. 120 years later and there are still no plans to sunset the foundries or remove the coke piles. There aren’t even any enviro campaigns currently targeting Zug. And as excruciating as it’s been, the ‘Windsor Hum’ has served to distract from the most dangerous island emissions: those that are largely silent and invisible.
Here’s hoping future generations abolish this Detroit hellscape before the dead zone is allowed another century to spread.