Rule change would cut sulfur dioxide in SW Detroit

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Residents in southwest Detroit may benefit from new proposed rules governing air emissions from two major industrial operations.

Sulfur dioxide emissions from a pair of U.S. Steel plants would be reduced under a new rule before the Legislature. The operations are the boiler houses at Zug Island and the hot strip mill reheat furnaces in Ecorse.

State officials have negotiated on sulfur dioxide emissions with five companies in southwest Detroit in recent years. U.S Steel was the lone holdout. The new rule, which requires approval from the Legislature, would put new restrictions on the company.

Detroit’s southwest neighborhoods have been plagued by poor air quality for decades. Sulfur dioxide is a gas produced by the burning of fossil fuels and through other large industrial processes; it has been linked to human respiratory illnesses.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified the area as being out of of attainment for federal air quality standards in 2010. Michigan has until 2018 to meet the levels required by the Clean Air Act’s National Ambient Air Quality Standard.

“Sulfur dioxide levels in Southwest Detroit have dropped by 33 percent since 2010,” DEQ officials said in a Thursday statement. “Air monitoring data for the area now shows the sulfur dioxide level is at 64 parts per billion. This rule takes further action toward protecting human health and the environment.”

Critics said Thursday the proposal does little to make a real impact on the region’s air quality.

“The key question that DEQ needs to answer is -- have they made major changes to the draft plan since October, particularly in regards to the SO2 emissions from the coal plants, which account for 80 percent of the SO2 in the area?” asked Regina Strong, director of the Beyond Coal Campaign for the Sierra Club in Michigan.

“Unfortunately, nothing in DEQ’s statement suggests they have made these changes and that they have a plan that will bring the area into attainment and protect the health of the residents of southwest Detroit and Downriver.”

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