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Clean air advocates petition to close Detroit incinerator

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News
Breathe Free Detroit delivered petitions condemning use of the incinerator to remove garbage.

An advocacy group delivered nearly 15,000 signatures to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan’s office Friday calling for the closure of the city’s incinerator over public health concerns and ecological impacts of burning garbage.

Breathe Free Detroit, a grassroots campaign fighting to shut down the site, along with the advocacy group Extreme Energy Extraction Summit and others argue the incinerator has regularly exceeded emissions limits and is polluting the community’s air.

Environmental groups have pushed for years to halt operations at the incinerator, which is on Russell Street near the Interstate 94 and I-75 intersection.

The incinerator has been owned by Detroit Renewable Power since 2010. It burns about 3,300 tons of trash each day, according to the environmental group.

Kathryn Savoie, director of Detroit Community Health and a spokeswoman for Breathe Free, said the facility produces toxic ash that pollutes the air and contributes to climate change.

“Detroiters deserve to breathe clean air,” she said.

Breathe Free Detroit recently published an  18-page report on the incinerator, outlining it’s possible long-lasting effects on the community.

Savoie noted Friday that the incinerator has regularly exceeded the emission limits of its renewable operating permit and federal regulations.

Since the start of 2013, the report contends the incinerator has exceeded emission limits over 750 times. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, it adds, has issued dozens of odor violations to the incinerator’s owners since 2014.

The long controversial incinerator was previously  targeted in a lawsuit over claims it failed to meet safety standards.

In response to the concerns, Detroit Renewable Energy officials said Friday they are constantly pushing to improve and have implemented a modern odor reduction system at the facility.

“Detroit Renewable Power operates in full compliance with stringent federal, state and local operating and performance permits and regulations. We regret, however, that since January 1, 2015, the facility has received 18 violation notices for emissions and 22 violation notices for odor,” the company said in a statement. “We are working to be better and seeking opportunities to improve our practices to be a good neighbor in our community.”

Alexis Wiley, Duggan’s chief of staff, said the city is sensitive to concerns but contractually obligated to take its trash to the incinerator through October of 2021.

“We are sympathetic to the concerns of these residents, however neither the mayor nor the city have any authority to shut down the incinerator or to regulate its emissions,” Wiley said in a released statement, adding the petitions should have been delivered to the state Department of Environmental Quality which is where the discretion falls. “As we get closer to the end of that contract we will be taking a closer look at this issue.”

Savoie said the groups have contacted state officials, but the city owns the land and has “influence and control.”

Twitter: @SarahRahal_