Pungent odor near Detroit Jeep plant prompts civil rights complaint against state environmental regulators

Nov 16, 2021 at 10:36 am
click to enlarge The area surrounding the Stellantis' Jeep plant in Detroit is covered in an overwhelming odor. - Justice for Beniteau Residents
Justice for Beniteau Residents
The area surrounding the Stellantis' Jeep plant in Detroit is covered in an overwhelming odor.

Residents who live near Stellantis’ year-old Jeep assembly plant in Detroit filed a federal civil rights complaint against state environmental regulators on Monday, alleging racial discrimination for allowing the automaker to increase air emissions in the predominantly Black city.

For months, a pungent, headache-inducing odor has been wafting from the Jeep Grand Cherokee plant on St. Jean on the city’s east side.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) has issued three air quality violation notices to Stellantis, formerly known as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Two of the complaints are for the odor and a third is for allegedly failing to properly contain emissions.

The Title VI Civil Rights complaint, which was submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency and filed by the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, alleges that EGLE’s decision to issue air quality permits to Stellantis has significantly increased emissions that impact lower-income, largely Black neighborhoods surrounding the plant. Title VI prohibits racial discrimination.

By issuing the permits, EGLE continued “the discriminatory legacy of requiring communities of color to bear the disproportionate burden of the industrial pollution generated by all of society.”

“EGLE’s decision to issue numerous permits requested for the Stellantis Complex in a short period, which allowed for a significant enlargement of air emissions in a low-income community where nearly all residents within 1 mile are people of color already inundated by other industrial sources, amounts to discrimination,” the complaint states.

The complaint says residents are “overwhelmed by paint fumes, burning eyes and throats, and headaches.”

Stellantis has until Nov. 24 to respond in writing to the most recent odor violation. The automaker must explain the cause of the odor and how it will correct the violation.

Earlier this month, EGLE launched a website focused on air quality issues at Stellantis’ facilities in Michigan.

Stellantis launched a hotline to report odors emanating from the plant. The toll-free line is 833-310-2313.

After receiving numerous complaints from constituents, U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib checked out the odor last week and described it as “unbearable” and “disgusting”, and said she immediatley got a headache.

On Monday, Tlaib, state Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, and Detroit City Council member-elect Latisha Johnson, whose district includes the Stellantis plant, sent a letter to EGLE Director Liesl Clark, urging the state to impose hefty fines on the automaker.

"As EGLE moves forward, we urge you to hold Stellantis accountable with the heaviest possible fine that has an actual deterring effect and to include a robust Supplemental Environmental Project (SEP) in the consent order,” the letter states. “This SEP should consist of a voluntary relocation effort funded by Stellantis and a home repair program that would help residents for which the city’s home repair program is insufficient.”

Last week, EGLE told Metro Times that state officials are committed to ensuring Stellantis corrects its air quality violations.

“EGLE take all complaints seriously,” Mary Ann Dolehanty, director of EGLE’s Air Quality Division, says. “When concerns arise, like the odors some residents are experiencing from Stellantis, our staff investigates and sometimes this leads to EGLE issuing a violation notice. This is an important part of holding a company accountable and fixing the problem as soon as possible.”

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