Hazardous waste plans met with resistance in Detroit
Detroit — Wayne County officials, residents and community groups are rallying against the expansion of a hazardous waste facility in the city, saying it’s a health risk to an area already plagued by poverty and sickness.
U.S. Ecology, a Boise, Idaho-based environmental services company, wants to expand its Georgia Street facility on the city’s east side if granted a permit by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
The facility has been operating at the site for more than 40 years, officials say, collecting and treating hazardous and non-hazardous liquids and solids from numerous sites.
It’s surrounded by other industrial facilities that residents say are polluting their neighborhoods and creating a nuisance with odors and loud trucks. An estimated 10,000 people live within one mile of the plant which sits near the border of Detroit and Hamtramck.
County Commissioner Martha Scott proposed a resolution urging the DEQ to deny U.S. Ecology from building and operating additional units on Georgia Street. The permit would allow U.S. Ecology to increase its waste capacity from 64,000 gallons to nearly 666,000 gallons.
“It’s just like Flint with the water,” Scott said. “We just allow poor areas to go unnoticed. You don’t see any of these businesses in upscale communities.”
The county commission’s Health and Human Service Committee passed the resolution Tuesday after a public hearing that included remarks from U.S. Ecology representatives, environmental groups and several residents who live near the facility. The resolution will now move to the commission’s full board.
A representative from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality could not immediately be reached for comment.
Scott Binder, vice president of operations for U.S. Ecology, said during a presentation the company has an excellent safety record, is highly regulated and gets routine inspections by the state, Wayne County and Detroit. Binder also noted the city and county generate millions of dollars in tax revenue from U.S. Ecology sites.
“We clean up the environment,” Binder said.
U.S. Ecology has three locations in Detroit and others in Taylor, Romulus and Belleville. It employs 500 workers in Wayne County.
U.S. Ecology is requesting a 10-year permit that will allow it to “better serve its customers” with more storage for liquid and solid wastes, according to the company.
Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, Coalition Opposed to U.S. Ecology, Detroit Wayne Health Authority and Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice all expressed their support for Scott’s resolution on Tuesday.
Detroit and Hamtramck city councils have also passed resolutions opposing U.S. Ecology’s plans for expansion, officials say.
Nick Leonard, an attorney for the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, said historically, hazard waste facilities have been disproportionately located in low-income communities with people of color.
In neighborhoods near the U.S. Ecology facility on Georgia Street, 65 percent of residents are people of color, 81 percent live below the poverty level and 31 percent are children, Leonard said.
“Because these communities have typically been viewed as the path of least resistance in regards to citing, undeniably, what is a highly undesirable land use,” Leonard said. “There is a legitimate concern, from our perspective, that this permit would fail to adequately safeguard the public health and our natural resources.”
Pam Pfeiffer, who lives in Hamtramck near the facility, said home values are already down in the area and infrastructure is poor. She said her basement floods every time there is heavy rain and she’s concerned about pollutants.
“This is just not the facility to have in the neighborhood,” Pfeiffer said. “We are trying to bring Detroit back.”
Dawn DeRose of Detroit said she is relying on the city and county to stand up for the community.
“We shouldn’t risk the health of our people to get tax money,” said DeRose, who lives near Georgia Street. “It’s a bad trade-off.”