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Hamtramck — A group of state elected officials and community activists said Monday they want state officials to permanently delay a company's request to expand a low-level hazardous waste plant in Detroit.

Led by State Rep. Issac Robinson, D-Detroit, the politicians and activists rallied support at a news conference here against the Boise, Idaho-based hazardous waste disposal company US Ecology, which wants to increase its storage capacity.

US Ecology's Georgia Street location is just across the border from Hamtramck, a racially and ethnically diverse community. The facility uses treatment to turn inorganic liquid waste into non-hazardous residues, according to US Ecology's website, before releasing it into Detroit's sewer systems, and stores hazardous chemicals.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is scheduled to hold a March 28 public hearing on the permit for US Ecology. It is unclear when the DEQ will make a decision but opponents have said it has been on hold for at least four years.

Although US Ecology says everything is safe, Robinson said he wants a "closer examination and we need to slow down before we give them a green light" to grow the facility.

"Now we have to have the conversation about what is the threat to our drinking water when you have this over concentration of waste being processed and dumped," he said. "This is an alert to the community to show up and report all environmental conditions you hear about as related to this facility.

The Detroit facility has operated for over 40 years and is in the process of renewing its permit, which "occurs every 10 years and enables modifications to be made in support of possible customer needs during that period,"  said Dave Crumrine, a spokesman for US Ecology in Michigan.

The changes would "allow us to better serve our customers, including retailers, local manufacturers and industry," Crumine said.

"They would allow us to increase storage capacity from the low levels that are in the current permit but would not increase the physical footprint of the facility or wastewater discharge volumes of the facility," he said. "The safety of the community and our employees is our highest priority, and we are proud to do our part to help protect the environment by providing safe and responsible waste management solutions for our customers."

Opponents want to prevent environment problems before they happen, said the Rev. David Bullock, a Detroit-based activist who has been outspoken about environmental issues in urban areas.

"We learned from Flint that if you speak up after the water is poisoned, you're still contaminated with lead," Bullock said. "We want to be proactive and preventive on the front end."

The state is "committed to hearing from the community and looks forward to the public meeting," DEQ spokesman Scott Dean said. 

"No decision on the proposed license will be made until the public comment period closes on April 12," he said.

Barbara Beesley, a longtime Hamtramck resident who attended the news conference, said she's been concerned about the plant and how it might have long-term effects on the public's health.

"We hear from people who lived in that community and the high increase of certain kind of cancers ... and yet there's no health study," she said. "Those are serious concerns. We need to put people's health and the health of our environment first, not business interests."

lfleming@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2620

Twitter:@leonardnfleming

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