Breathe Free Detroit Campaign

Speak out against Detroit's air-polluting trash incinerator by March 8th

Where does trash go when we throw it “away”? If you live in Metro Detroit, it’s very likely some or all of your discards go to one of the world’s largest trash incinerators, located in the heart of Detroit.  The incinerator’s smokestack rises up from the cement near the intersection of I-75 and I-94. One might think that such an area, bisected by freeways and host to a large industrial polluter, would be vacant of families and homes. On the contrary, 7,280 people—including 1,544 children—live within just one mile of the incinerator. The area is also home to numerous schools and a new housing development.

The incinerator, constructed in 1986 and now owned and operated by Detroit Renewable Power, has been a bone of contention with resident Detroiters from the very beginning. And with good reason.  It has not been a good neighbor. In the last two years alone, DRP’s incinerator has violated the Clean Air Act 379 times. That’s a violation at least every other day!

Community members recently gathered in a local church basement on a 60-degree day in February to learn more about the violations and what could be done. The meeting was hosted by Breathe Free Detroit, a campaign started by the Ecology Center, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, and concerned community members.

Attendees learned that even though DRP violated federal air pollution laws 379 times, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has proposed to fine the company for only 6 violations, totaling $149,000. Sixty-four continuous days of emitting excess particulate matter—a known cause and trigger of asthma—were counted as one single violation. Over 300 violations of carbon monoxide (CO) releases were excused because they occurred during start up, shut down, or a malfunction of the facility.

Event speakers acknowledged that while the recent spell of warm weather is lovely, other results of global warming are catastrophic. And carbon monoxide (CO) is a major greenhouse gas, contributing to the problem greatly. Additionally, “…when CO levels are elevated outdoors, they can be of particular concern for people with some types of heart disease [due to reduced oxygen],” according to the U.S. EPA.

Margaret Weber of Zero Waste Detroit notes that according to the analysis by Community Action to Promote Healthy Environments (CA-PHE), emissions from the DRP facility can be linked to premature deaths, hospitalizations, and asthma incidences among children. The total monetized value of the health impacts attributable to the DRP facility alone is $2.6 million each year.

What bothers local community members just as much, however, is the fact that most of the trash burned comes from outside of Detroit. At least 60% comes from Oakland County alone. All of the Grosse Pointes send all of their trash to the incinerator. “This is a classic case of environmental racism as a community of color is burdened with the negative impacts of incinerating the trash from majority white, affluent communities”, according to Great Lakes Environmental Law Center.

But, the recent community meeting was not all bad news. Concerned residents were pleased to learn that they have an opportunity to have their voices heard. The MDEQ’s proposed consent decree, detailing the penalties tied to the incinerator’s recent violations, is currently open for public comment.


The last day to comment is March 8, 2017.

Also on this day, MDEQ will host a public hearing at the International Institute in Detroit to receive verbal comments. Many community members are planning to attend. Any Michigan resident can submit a comment. Here’s how:

Comment by mail:

Jason Wolf, Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, Air Quality Division,

P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, MI 48909

Comment by email:

Comment in person: Public Hearing WEDNESDAY, MARCH 8, 2017

International Institute, 111 East Kirby Street, Detroit, MI 48202

6:00pm—Public Informational Session

7:00pm—Public Hearing/Comments

For more information, contact Melissa Cooper Sargent  or Kathryn Savoie 

Published on February 27, 2017