State Addressing Incinerator Stench

By Elizabeth Harlow, Ecology Center Staff Writer

We’ve written it before: the Detroit Renewable Power Incinerator stinks. Literally. Badly.

The plant doesn’t immediately process garbage when it arrives, but rather waits to respond to client energy demands. Observers have reported heaps of rotting garbage reaching 30 feet high before they’re burned. While that massive volume of decomposing waste sits for days or weeks in the summer heat on the facility’s tipping floor near midtown, it does what trash always does: it reeks.

As Detroiters keep speaking up about the stench, the state is stepping up its response to this longstanding problem. Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette’s office sent a letter on July 31 to DRP attorneys, formally notifying them of what neighbors already know: that the current operations plan for containing odors is unacceptably inadequate.

The stink isn’t just unpleasant for the people who live and work nearby. It’s disruptive and also illegal, and DRP has tussled with Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality about repeated odor violations. The DRP has frequently denied responsibility for “alleged odors” or negotiated slap-on-the-wrist fines when forced to accept accountability. The facility has been held responsible for nearly 200 violations each year in 2016 and 2017, and they’ve already racked up 75 odor complaints in the first half of 2018. But, penalties to date haven’t effectively deterred recurrent offenses.

The letter response represents a new level of government action to curtail one of the incinerator’s many problems, in direct response to vocal and consistent pressure from citizens. Standard procedure after such a letter is sent calls for Detroit Renewable Power to come to an agreement with the attorney general's office regarding how the facility will change its operations to better control odors moving forward. The negotiations will be private and confidential. The facility is already paying stipulated penalties for each odor violation and will continue to do so.

The Ecology Center is committed to holding this egregious polluter accountable, and the Breathe Free Detroit campaign is making progress with grassroots action, including your help. Let’s keep it up!

Report odors to MDEQ’s Pollution Emerging Alert System hotline:


Staff are available to receive calls 24/7.


Published on August 30, 2018