Letter: Detroit incinerator an assault on justice

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Mayor Mike Duggan has taken recent actions, both quiet and public, that could signify a commitment to the health and well-being of Detroiters. Recently Duggan signed onto the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, committing the city to reducing carbon emissions to below 1990 levels. One action — shutting down Detroit’s trash incinerator — could help Duggan make good on both of his recent commitments.

Here is a facility that pumps out carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides and particulate matter daily, and whose operators have violated the Clean Air Act 379 times since January 2015. All of these pollutants contribute to climate change, and they all contribute to health concerns of local residents, who are predominantly African-American and low-income.

In February we began working with residents who were concerned about pollution from the incinerator. On a blustery night this past March, almost 200 residents packed a public hearing to object to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s slap-on-the-wrist fine and bulk discount for repeated violations by the corporation that runs the incinerator.

Residents cited research from the University of Michigan that found air pollutants released by the incinerator cause and activate asthma as well as increase asthma-related hospitalizations for children. The emissions can also cause nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, decreased lung function, coughing and difficulty breathing.

Michigan Department of Community Health, (now the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services) labeled Detroit “epicenter of asthma,” and yet their colleagues at the MDEQ refused to take action. This is why neighborhood residents are hopeful when they hear Duggan has joined the U.S. Conference of Mayors in their dedication to curbing climate change.

We call on the mayor to continue to stand with the U.S. Conference of Mayors, who recently adopted a resolution to work towards 100 percent renewable energy with language that specifically excludes incineration. Duggan can take an important step toward a cleaner, greener, and healthier “city for all of us” by closing a 30-year chapter of incineration and moving Detroit toward the zero waste practices of the future.

Melissa Cooper Sargent, Ecology Center

William Copeland, climate justice director,

East Michigan Environmental Action Council

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