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Detroit activists warn pollution a health risk

Leonard N. Fleming
The Detroit News

Michigan’s air pollution is a continuing health risk, especially in Detroit, as the Trump administration is seeking to roll back federal standards, representatives of Environment Michigan said Thursday.

“Our message today is very clear: Even one day with unhealthy levels of air pollution is too many,” said Annalise Dobbelstein, a campaign organizer for Environment Michigan, an advocacy group. “We need need to stop dirty air pollution like coal, oil or gas and we need to start making sure we are using clean, renewable energy.”

Angela Youngblood, 42, of Rochester, who is a member of Moms Clean Air Force, said America has a pollution problem, and that people need to better understand the risks.

“I worry sending my kids outside to play when the pollution that plagues places like Detroit can cause them to have an asthma attack or future health problems,” Youngblood said at a news conference in front of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

The criticisms come after President Donald Trump in late March signed an executive order overhauling the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon emissions from fossil-fuel burning electricity plants — especially those that burn coal. Trump has argued that the rules put coal miners out of work.

Trump’s move isn’t expected to have much effect in Michigan, where DTE Energy and Consumers Energy have said they still plan to retire most of their coal-fired power plants and replace them mostly with cleaning-burning, natural-gas-fired facilities.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality “takes our responsibility to ensure the air in Michigan is healthy for all to breathe very seriously,” spokeswoman Melody Kindraka said. “We continuously strive for adherence to the strictest health and emissions standards and work to identify long-term strategies to address noncompliance.”

State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, said air pollution is a “big issue in my district” which includes Southwest Detroit, the east side of the city, River Rouge and Ecorse, where there are factories.

“What the residents have known anecdotally for many years now is the air pollution from all the industrial sources as well as the international truck traffic is having a huge impact on people’s health,” she said.

At the federal level, Chang said, she would like to see the Environmental Protection Agency maintain the programs that support the Clean Air Act and encourage the state to do more, especially with violation hearings.

“There are some things that could definitely be better,” she said regarding Michigan. “We don’t address cumulative impact of air pollution, we look at things permit by permit. Well, what about all the sources together? That is to the detriment of our residents.”

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