From the Headlines – Week of February 22, 2021

Tree care: R&B singer SZA has teamed up with the TAZO tea company and tree planting organization American Forests to start a green jobs program in Detroit and several other cities that will train residents to plant and care for trees. As previously reported in Planet Detroit, tree planting could help the city manage stormwater and mitigate against extreme heat, but the success of such programs hinges on resident support. “For many Americans, the effects of climate change are already here. Across the country, Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities are already facing the worst of it.” SZA said in a video promoting the initiative. “Some (communities) are 20 degrees hotter than whiter neighborhoods in the same city.” The application for the program can be found here. (Freep, Planet Detroit)

Stagnant water: Most K-12 schools plan to begin offering in-person instruction by March 1. But since many buildings have been closed for nearly a year, experts worry that lead or the legionella bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease may have been allowed to accumulate in stagnant water in school plumbing. Most districts will flush their pipes before students return from breaks, but the practice isn’t standardized, and the state doesn’t require them to test their water or ensure water quality. The Detroit Public Schools Community District uses drinking water filtration systems that remove lead, and some of these systems can also eliminate bacteria. In her recent budget proposal, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked for $55 million to put water filters in schools statewide. (Chalkbeat) 

Permanent shutoff ban (for some): State Rep. Abraham Aiyash introduced legislation to permanently ban water shutoffs for seniors, families with children, people with disabilities, and those with serious medical conditions. “With the statewide moratorium on water shut-offs ending on March 31st, we need to advocate for permanent solutions to water access beyond the current state of emergency,” Aiyash said in a statement. “Access to safe, affordable water is a human right as well as a public health priority.” The legislation would require water systems to set up payment plans based on a household’s income and ability to pay. Utilities would also have to follow a strict notification process before shutting off water for anyone ineligible for permanent shutoff protection. (Metro Times)

Asbestos and bribery: An asbestos abatement company involved in Detroit’s demolition program has been charged with multiple felonies, including bribery. The State Attorney General’s office has charged Kevin Woods, president of BBEK Environmental, with bribing Arodando Haskins to win contracts with Haskins’ former employer, Adamo Group. Adamo, a demolition contractor for the Detroit Land Bank Authority, frequently used Woods’ company, although Woods violated Michigan statutes that required asbestos abatement and air monitoring to be done independently. (Detroit News)

PFAS in the home: Hamtramck resident Tom Perkins took a hard look at how PFAS chemicals in his household might be affecting his health. After testing several products like dental floss and clothing and his water, Perkins had blood tests done on himself and his cat. He found what experts say were “unusually high” levels of the so-called forever chemicals. Although research has associated PFAS chemicals with cancer and reduced immunity, it’s impossible to know what level of exposure will result in health problems. “We’re understanding that a lot of the long-term chronic disease that people have can link back to these cumulative exposures over their lifetime,” Carla Ng, a University of Pittsburgh researcher, told Perkins. “It’s not just about keeping somebody from keeling over; it’s about reducing the overall burden of environmentally associated diseases in the U.S. population, which is pretty big.” (Great Lakes Now)

Nestle saleNestle has sold its North American bottled water operation to private equity firms One Rock Capital Partners LLC and Metropoulos & Co. for $4.3 billion. The operation includes brands like Ice Mountain and Poland Spring. Nestle has come under intense criticism for its water-bottling operation in Mecosta and Osceola counties. The company takes more than one million gallons a day while paying only $200 a year for a state permit. Last year, Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) dismissed the Nestle permit challenge. Peggy Case, board president for Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, had criticized the company’s ability to sell water for a profit with such a minimal licensing fee. At the same time, many Michigan residents struggled to afford water service. Her organization and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians also feared that increased pumping would harm the Chippewa Creek watershed. Case said her organization is unhappy with the Nestle sale “because we see it as an attempt to privatize water and water infrastructure further and treat it as a commodity.” (Freep, Bridge, Detroit News)

Grid doubts: The massive failure of Texas’ electrical grid last week raises fresh concerns about Michigan’s energy infrastructure. Unlike Texas, Michigan’s grid is more prepared for cold weather, and it’s connected to regional electricity networks. Still, according to one analysis, the state also suffered 111 weather-related outages between 2000 and 2019 —  the highest number of outages for any state. The energy justice group Soulardarity is lobbying the state to require that utilities give rate-payers a $2 credit for every hour that they are without power as an incentive to reduce blackouts. More transmission lines may also be necessary to distribute power from decentralized, renewable sources and ensure grid reliability. (Bridge, Climate Central)

Not a crime: Former Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder‘s attorney Brian P. Lennon in a criminal case related to the Flint water crisis has found his defense, apparently. “Neglecting a city is not a crime — certainly not one with which Governor Snyder has been charged,” Lennon said. Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley called these words “infuriating.” “This criminal defense goes beyond implicit bias,” Neeley said. “Moreover, it is explicit bias when communities of color are neglected, and they argue it is not a crime.” (MLive)


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