Breathe Free Detroit People

Detroit Incinerator Could Face Lawsuit Over Clean Air Act Violations

Ecology Center and twelve other organizations and individuals filed a Notice of Intent to Sue the operators of Detroit’s trash incinerator for repeated violations of the federal Clean Air Act. The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center (GLELC) notified Governor Snyder, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. EPA, among others, of its intent to sue Detroit Renewable Power, LLC (DRP) and Michigan Waste Energy, Inc.

Since 2015 DRP has accumulated over 40 violations for surpassing the limit of allowed emissions of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter and for excess odor. Functioning in the heart of Detroit, the facility yearly emits hundreds of thousands of tons of pollutants, including carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxides.

Studies show that particulate matter emissions trigger asthma incidents, particularly amongst children. Detroit is no exception. Children living in the community near the incinerator go to the hospital for asthma-related emergencies five times more often than children living throughout the state of Michigan. In this community, 60% of residents live below the poverty level; over 87% are people of color.

This disproportionate health burden on the community around the Incinerator presents a clear environmental health issue. The EPA states that, “Environmental Justice...will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”

Adding insult to injury, the vast majority of household garbage burned at the DRP Incinerator is from outside of Detroit: 66% from Oakland County, 15% from other Michigan counties and outside the state (including Canada). Only 19% originates from the whole of Wayne County. Additionally, Detroit pays more to dispose of its garbage at the incinerator than other communities. “In short, Detroit is subsidizing other communities throughout the State of Michigan, the Midwest, and Canada to dispose of its garbage at the Incinerator,” according to GLEC.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality or the EPA now have 60 days to commence an enforcement action. If no enforcement action is pursued, then the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center will file a citizen suit on behalf of local residents and organizations to enforce the Clean Air Act.

“Detroiters in this community are paying for the Incinerator with their health and the health of their children. Some days it smells so awful you don’t want to be outside. But, it’s what we can’t smell that I am most worried about. The pollutant-laden particles coming out of the stack don’t blow away. They settle close by: in our gardens, on our front porches, playgrounds, schools, and in our lungs,” says Melissa Cooper Sargent, Ecology Center staffer, downwind neighbor of the incinerator, and a named party in the potential suit.