Expansion of hazardous waste plant in Detroit smacks of 'environmental racism,' Rep. Robinson says

Jan 31, 2020 at 4:39 pm
click to enlarge State Rep. Isaac Robinson (center) locks arms with state Rep. Jewell Jones (left) and Imam Salah Algahim (right) as they march from a nearby school to US Ecology on Detroit's east side. - State Rep. Isaac Robinson
State Rep. Isaac Robinson
State Rep. Isaac Robinson (center) locks arms with state Rep. Jewell Jones (left) and Imam Salah Algahim (right) as they march from a nearby school to US Ecology on Detroit's east side.

The expansion of a hazardous waste processing plant with a history of serious violations on Detroit’s east side smacks of “environmental racism,” Rep. Isaac Robinson wrote in scathing letters to state officials.

Approving US Ecology’s expansion “would demonstrate a complete contempt for the working families of southeastern Michigan,” Robinson, whose district includes the plant on the east side, wrote to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Department of Environmental, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) in mid-December.

“We must all work together to fight environmental racism,” Robinson continued. “Only in Detroit would US Ecology attempt to station such a facility in a large urban center. Our policies should not be the poster child for environmental racism.”

Despite the objections from Robinson and the other nine state House representatives from Detroit, EGLE issued a permit Wednesday to allow US Ecology to increase its storage of toxic waste almost ninefold in a densely populated neighborhood just blocks from a school and mosque.

EGLE said it had no choice but to approve the permit because the company has complied with the law. But records show otherwise. Since September 2010, the plant at Georgia Street near the Hamtramck border has been cited more than 150 times for releasing excessive amounts of arsenic, cyanide, mercury, and other toxic chemicals into the city’s sewer system, according to a Detroit Free Press review of Great Lakes Water Authority records. The company also failed to properly explain past violations and provide solutions to avoid reoccurrences as required by its permit.

In a joint statement, the 10 House Democrats from Detroit said US Ecology has committed more than 500 violations and dumped excessive amounts of dangerous chemicals into the sewers near its facility at Georgia Street near the Hamtramck border.

“We must put an end to the constant assault on the health and safety of our families,” the Democrats wrote. “Approving this expansion sends a dangerous signal to the rest of the nation that Detroit is America’s toxic waste dumping ground. Welcoming more out-of-state dangerous, toxic and radioactive waste in the middle of Detroit is unacceptable and we demand answers. These are exactly the type of deadly materials we need to keep away from our neighborhoods and water system.”

Robinson, who has introduced a bill to prevent hazardous storage and processing plants from expanding, tells Metro Times that the state’s approval of the expansion is “shocking, alarming, and disturbing.”

“EGLE has declared Wayne County the dumping ground for America's most dangerous toxic waste, including radioactive waste from other states,” Robinson says.

“In light of the Flint Water tragedy and the discovery of thousands of contaminated sites across Michigan, it is disheartening to watch corporate special interests muscle state and city government to get their way, to make Wayne County a one-stop shot for all the dangerous waste this side of the Mississippi.”

Robinson says activists, residents, and lawmakers must continue fighting against the increase of toxins in Detroit.

“There is an over-concentration of toxic waste crisis in Wayne County and we can not let up, even as EGLE lets us down,” Robinson says. “This overreach by US Ecology will only lead to community taking a closer look at their operation in municipalities across the region."

Detroiters are disproportionately subjected to environmental contamination and have the highest rates of asthma in Michigan. Southwest Detroit is the most polluted area in the state and was the subject of a Metro Times cover story about environmental racism on Jan. 8.

US Ecology property area. - Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy
Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy
US Ecology property area.

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