Stellantis says air around new Jeep plant is safe, will share data

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Data from the air monitoring system installed at Jeep’s new assembly plant in Detroit show emissions of potentially harmful chemicals are below federal and state standards, said the brand’s parent company, which says it will share data with the public quarterly.

"The data demonstrates that the air-quality area is safe," Al Johnston with Stellantis' corporate environmental programs said during a virtual community meeting on Wednesday.

Stellantis NV will share the data collected in its quarterly “Stellantis4Detroit” newsletter. Previously, the information had been shared quarterly with the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy, but a resident needed to make a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain that information from the agency.

Robots apply paint to the body of a Jeep Grand Cherokee L at the Detroit Assembly Complex-Mack.

The decision to include the data publicly comes after the state environment department said it will fine Stellantis for an undisclosed amount and has implemented a compliance plan following multiple air-quality violations. Odor complaints by residents resulted in the finding that some emissions were not being ducted through controls required by the automaker's permits to reduce pollutants at the new Mack Assembly Plant on the city’s east side as well as at the Warren Truck Assembly Plant.

Stellantis will begin $900 million in investments at Jefferson North Assembly Plant, a facility adjacent to Mack, in February for production of the next-generation two-row Grand Cherokee as well as the Dodge Durango SUV.

Stellantis says the proper equipment will be in place at Mack, which produces the three-row Jeep Grand Cherokee and began production of the two-row Grand Cherokee earlier this month, by the end of the year and at Warren by February. It also is having a third-party engineering firm provide a report on how to mitigate odors from the Detroit plant that have affected residential neighbors. EGLE is expected to hold a community meeting to provide updates on its investigation next month, according to the city of Detroit.

The air monitoring system is on the north side of the plant near East Warren and the railroad tracks. Average readings of particulate matters less than 2.5 microns in width, which can be harmful to breathe, were 7.4 micrograms per cubic meter, which is less than 12 micrograms per cubic meters — the national ambient air-quality standard, according to Stellantis. It was also comparable to a nearby monitoring stations at E. 7 Mile Rd.

The monitor recorded an average of 10.9 micrograms per cubic meter of nitrogen dioxide, below the national ambient air-quality standard’s 53 micrograms per cubic meter, the company said. The E. 7 Mile Rd. monitor’s average was 9.5 micrograms per cubic meter.

The monitor also collects samples monthly from March to October of volatile organic compounds, which can become the toxic gas ozone when they combine with the atmosphere. The monitor identified 11 of these compounds, according to Stellantis. The compound with the maximum concentration closest to Michigan air toxic screening level, trichloroethylene, which was recorded at 1.1 micrograms per cubic meters compared to the toxic screening level of 2 micrograms per cubic meters, is not used at the Mack plant, Johnston said.

"Th odor issue at the site, which we're working to address, is not a health risk, and this is what we've determined through modeling that we've done," he said. "Obviously odors are not acceptable. We are going to be working and we're working on a solution for that."

Since 2015, when the EPA reduced its recommended maximum level of ozone, the seven-county area of southeast Michigan has been labeled as a nonattainment region.  EGLE in November, however, submitted a request to the EPA for redesignation following efforts to reduce emissions in the region.

 As for Stellantis’ commitments in its community benefits agreement with the city and community, two are outstanding. If there aren’t any other pandemic-related delays, Stellantis expects to announce the Advanced Manufacturing Program in Mechatronics at Wayne County Community College District in the first quarter.

It also expects to hold meetings in January and February to receive input from community members for mural designs on a sound barrier running along the plant. Those are expected to be painted in the second and third quarters.

The automaker additionally provided an update on its hiring efforts. As a part of the community benefits agreement, it agreed to give Detroiters the first chance at jobs at the new plant. Since July 2019, the company has hired 5,576 city residents, including 575 in the immediate “impact zone” as of Nov. 1. A total of 2,151 Detroiters are working at Mack of the 4,923 employees there. The other 3,409 are at other plants in Michigan like Warren or Sterling Heights Assembly Plant and another 16 are at plants out of state like Toledo Assembly Plant in Ohio.

The result, according to the company, is a projected $827 million in wages to Detroit employees, up 44% year-over-year, and $14.2 million in income taxes from Detroit employees, up 34% year-over-year.

Michelle Jackson, a member of the Neighborhood Advisory Council, expressed concerns about the placement of some of the hires: "This community benefit agreement ordinance was supposed to benefit people in Detroit. It was not supposed to take those folks in Detroit and make them travel to Sterling Heights or to the Warren plant."

Ron Stallworth in Stellantis' external affairs division said the result of the hiring isn't an "extraction" from the city as they are Detroit residents and pay taxes to the city.

"The company provides the opportunity," he said. "And the opportunity has been a success, frankly, based on the feedback that we received from our employees."

Added Nicole Sherrard-Freeman, group executive of jobs, economy and Detroit at Work for the city of Detroit: "In no situation, are we ever trying to take away a Detroiter's choice. If their choice is to work at Sterling Heights Assembly Plant, they go where they like. I've talked to so many Stellantis hires who said, 'I thought I wanted to move to the Detroit plant once I got my permanent job, but I like it here at Sterling Heights Assembly Plant.'"

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble