Anna Balzer, right, at a recent community lunch.
A few of our businesses-in-residence are people representing larger organizations who want a presence in Detroit. Anna Balzer is one such example. Anna comes to us from Ohio as a Challenge Detroit Fellow, and works for an organization called PM Environmental, a company that provides business solutions for environmental risk (such as toxicity within a building or underground), and which happens to have its headquarters in Lansing. PM Environmental is renting a desk from us for fellows such as Anna who are based in Detroit. Recently she spoke at our Friday community lunch to help us understand her work.
Anna’s main role with the company is as an historic researcher. When a request goes out to investigate a property, Anna examines old city directories to determine who owned it over the years. If, for example, the property used to be the site of a gas station (as the Green Garage once was), it could mean toxic chemicals are in the soil. She also checks aerial photography archives to help fill in the gaps if more information is needed. Sometimes she calls neighbors of the property to see if they remember the businesses who resided on the property. Even fire records are checked. In addition to this research, PM Environmental does soil testing, energy and sustainability consulting, asbestos and lead services, industrial hygiene services and a wide variety of remediation work.
An interesting discussion about Detroit's urban agriculture followed after Anna's talk. Many people were interested to discover that Detroit's soil is contaminated with a variety of metals and other substances dating from our industrial past. Anna suggested that we utilize lasagna gardening, or other forms of raised bed gardening, to ensure the safest method of growth.
For the Green Garage and the El Moore, one of our first jobs was to consult with a similar service to determine toxicity within the buildings and on our properties. We’re so happy to have Anna in our building – this is such important work, especially for a city like Detroit that’s in the midst of rebuilding.