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New Detroit Jeep plant gets third air-quality violation; Warren gets first

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The state of Michigan this week issued the new Jeep plant in Detroit a third air-quality violation, and a separate inspection resulted in a violation at Warren Truck Assembly Plant, as well.

The violation in Detroit from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy is for "moderate to strong" odors coming from the Mack Assembly Plant that affected east-side neighbors, according to the violation. An inspection at Warren found emissions from paint primer were not being controlled according to the special conditions of the plant's permit. Additional violations on their own don't mean the automaker could face fines.

Beniteau Street residents Tammy Hurt, 55, and Derrell Sistrong, 63, last week voiced their support for greater scrutiny on the new Jeep plant next to their street after the state issued another emissions violation against it.

The violations come after Stellantis NV, the merger of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and French automaker Groupe PSA, made major updates to both facilities. A $1.6 billion investment expanded two engine plants on Detroit's east side to create the new Mack Assembly Plant building Jeep Grand Cherokee L SUVs, which launched in June. A $1.5 billion update to Warren recently brought assembly of the new Wagoneer and Grand Wagoneer SUVs to the site alongside the Ram Classic pickup trucks.

For months, Detroit residents living along Beniteau Street, whose backyards now back up to the Jeep plant following the expansion, have voiced concerned about the effects of the plant's emissions on their health. Some say they wish they had received help from the city and company to move.

During an investigation on Oct. 28, staff from the EGLE's Air Quality Division observed persistent and objectionable paint or solvent odors of "moderate to strong intensity" rated at a "level 3 and 4" on a 5-level scale that affected a downwind residential area.

State rules and the automaker's permit to install emission units state the operating of equipment on the site shouldn't result in the emission of an air contaminant that "causes unreasonable interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property."

Stellantis has until Nov. 24 to provide a written response to the state about why the violation occurred and what steps it's taking to address it.

"We continue to work with and provide regular updates to EGLE on our activities to address odor complaints related to our operations at the Mack Assembly Plant," spokeswoman Jodi Tinson said in a statement. "We are taking these concerns very seriously.

"As confirmed by EGLE, the plant has been and continues to be in full compliance with the permitted emissions limits."

An EGLE spokeswoman Thursday evening couldn't immediately verify the statement.

The automaker received a similar violation for moderate to strong odors in September at the Mack plant. Stellantis said it was having a third-party engineer firm investigate the matter and suggest mitigation efforts, was improving emission controls and was taking measures to monitor conditions, including setting up a community hotline for neighbors' concerns to be evaluated promptly.

An EGLE inspection last month at Mack, however, found Stellantis wasn't ducting properly paint emissions through a regenerative thermal oxidizer, a system that destroys volatile organic compounds that become the toxic gas ozone when combined with the atmosphere. The automaker has until Nov. 10 to respond to that violation.

"We also are taking a number of other presumptive actions to address these concerns, including ensuring that the plant’s emission control equipment is installed and working as designed," Tinson added.

The ducting finding at Mack resulted in Stellantis "voluntarily" notifying EGLE of a similar issue at Warren Truck, Tinson said. Inspectors on Oct. 26 identified the failure at the plant to capture and control properly the paint primer VOC emissions.

"Warren Truck has been and continues to be in full compliance with the permitted emissions limits," Tinson said. "We will work to address this issue promptly."

The violation requires Stellantis to submit a revised renewable operating permit and a schedule of compliance by Nov. 22. It must include the cause of the violation, how long it has lasted and what actions the automaker is taking.

Stellantis has said the Mack plant is one of its most efficient and sustainable manufacturing operations and that updates to Warren Truck are reducing VOC emissions by 30% in the seven-county region of southeast Michigan that already is above Environmental Protection Agency limits on ozone. Mack Assembly has the lowest VOC emissions rate of any U.S. assembly plant, according to the company.

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble