Amid foul odor, Detroit residents demand meeting with Stellantis but are rebuffed

Oct 18, 2021 at 5:02 pm
click to enlarge Detroiters who live near the Mack Assembly Plant tried to deliver petitions to Stellantis to demand environmental protections. - Detroit People’s Platform
Detroit People’s Platform
Detroiters who live near the Mack Assembly Plant tried to deliver petitions to Stellantis to demand environmental protections.

Detroiters who have been complaining about a pungent paint odor emanating from the new Mack Assembly Plant on the city’s east side were turned away Monday when they tried to deliver petitions demanding environmental protections.

At issue is an overwhelming, headache-inducing stench that has been coming from the year-old Jeep Grand Cherokee assembly plant, which is operated by Stellantis, formerly known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

Residents and activists collected more than 5,000 signatures on a petition that calls on Stellantis to meet with Detroit residents “to negotiate for environmental and health protections for area residents.”

On Monday morning, they tried to deliver the petitions to executives at Stellantis’ headquarters in Auburn Hills. But when they arrived, they were stopped by security, and no one would accept the petitions.

“We’ve been pushing for accountability for two years now. This is frustrating,” Eden Bloom, an organizer for the advocacy group Detroit People’s Platform and a resident who lives near the plant, tells Metro Times. “Residents have only had one independent meeting and that was with us pushing and pushing and pushing to get them to sit down. It’s almost as if they acknowledge us, they acknowledge the problem.”

For months, residents who live near the plant have reported a strong stench.

Finally last month, after an investigation, the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy filed a violation notice for paint odors of “moderate to strong intensity.” The stench is “objectionable and of sufficient intensity, duration and frequency to constitute a violation” and an “unreasonable interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life and property,” the notice states.

In response to the violation, Stellantis said last week it has taken steps “to minimize odors.”

"FCA is monitoring the painting process equipment very closely to identify any operating conditions which might cause odors to escape into the general building atmosphere and potentially be discharged through the building ventilation system," Mack plant manager Michael Brieda wrote in a letter Monday to EGLE's Air Quality Division.

Metro Times couldn’t reach Stellantis for comment.

EGLE is expected to soon address Stellantis’ response.

In the meantime, residents are left to worry about the potential hazards coming from the plant. The area around the plant has some of the highest asthma hospitalization rates in the state.

Pollution is a constant problem in the majority-Black city. The University of Michigan School of Public Health estimates that air pollution kills more than 650 Detroiters a year — more than twice the number of residents killed by gun violence annually. Thousands more are hospitalized, and children miss a disproportionate number of days at school because of illnesses and asthma.

Numerous studies have shown that Black communities nationwide are disproportionately exposed to industrial air pollution. African-Americans, for example, are 75% more likely to live near industrial facilities than white people, according to "Fumes Across the Fence-Line," a 2017 study by the National Medical Association, the Clean Air Task Force, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The study estimates that nearly 2,500 children a year in Detroit have asthma attacks linked to air pollution.

The Michigan Department of Community Health designated the Tri-Cities area as the "epicenter of asthma burden." The hospitalization report for asthma is three to six times higher in Wayne County than the rest of the state, according to the American Lung Association.

"The disparity in the asthma burden in Detroit warrants continued attention," states a 2016 Michigan Department of Health and Human Services study. "Public health efforts should continue to be directed to persons with asthma in Detroit to improve asthma control and prevent severe outcomes."

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