Hamtown hotspot 

It’s time to paint a big ol' bullseye on Michigan Waste Services’ Hamtramck incinerator. The facility — which is the only privately owned, publicly supplied medical waste incinerator in the state, and has the Detroit Medical Center as one of its primary customers — has become the target of a new coalition that wants to see it shut down.

The newly formed Coalition to Close the Hamtramck Medical Waste Incinerator brings together a number of national and local groups, including the Ecology Center, the Hamtramck Environmental Action Team (HEAT), the Arab American and Chaldean Council and others.

After learning about the coalition, Metro Times editorial intern Prema Oza wanted to find out what the facility’s operators thought about the opposition. So she called … and called … and called.

“They just kept hanging up on me when I told them who I was and what I wanted,” said Oza.

So much for responding to public concerns — which are numerous. According to HEAT’s Rob Cedar, the incinerator burns 28 tons of waste a day, despite being just a few blocks from a residential neighborhood. Cedar also says the facility has a history of numerous permit violations, including problems with mercury emissions. Dr. A.K. Algazali, a local chiropractor, said that members of the community are concerned about their health. “We hope that the state or the owners will do something about it because it’s been going on for eight or nine years now,” said Algazali. “People are complaining about problems with breathing and sinus problems, especially people who live close to it.”

Wendy Barrott, director of the Wayne County’s Air Quality Management Division, said “There have been no violations this year or complaints” and that the facility is in compliance with a previous consent order concerning mercury levels.

Cedar claims that maintaining the standard is not good enough since “the standards are ridiculous.” Anna Holden, chair of the Southeastern Michigan chapter of the Sierra Club, agrees. She said environmental groups “testified and asked for regulations that would be higher than the federal ones,” said Holden. Instead, she said the state lowered its regulations to be in line with federal guidelines.

The coalition feels that state and county governments have failed to of alleviate the toxic burden that Hamtramck must live under. The city has the dubious distinction of being in the middle of an industrial nightmare, near two incinerators, an axle plant, and a GM manufacturing plant. According to Health Care Without Harm Coalition, a national advocacy group of medical and environmental professionals, safe and effective alternatives to incineration are available, making the Hamtramck facility unnecessary.

Although efforts have been made to reduce the mercury content of its waste, DMC officials say its refuse is ultimately someone else’s problem.” It’s up to the vendor,” said DMC media relations’ interim director Howard Hewey. “Our specialty is not handling waste products.”

Prema Oza contributed to News Hits, which is edited by Curt Guyette

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