From the Headlines – Week of 3/29/2021

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Who pays for climate change? Water levels on the Great Lakes and in the canals of Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood are declining for now, but experts expect they will rise again with increased frequency as the climate crisis continues. So the question remains about how to pay for seawalls and infrastructure to protect a community where the median household income is well below the state average. Right now, homeowners are responsible for paying for their own seawalls. And many may also have to buy pricey flood insurance — on account of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) new floodplain maps. It brings up larger questions about who should be expected to pay for climate change adaptation and when it might be better to finance a managed retreat rather than build more protective infrastructure. For now, some in the neighborhood are pushing for FEMA money to build uniform seawalls throughout the neighborhood, while others propose installing removable gates where the canals connect with the Detroit River. (Bridge Michigan)

Neighborhood grocery: Also in Jefferson Chalmers, entrepreneur Raphael Wright is working to open Neighborhood Grocery, which would become the city’s first Black-owned grocery store since 2014. Investing $50,000 of his own money and raising $55,000 from GoFundMe and $20,000 from other investors, Wright is trying to fill a need for healthy food in a neighborhood replete with fast-food restaurants and liquor stores, but no grocery stores. Neighborhood Grocery’s investors are 98% Detroiters who will receive annual interest after the store breaks even and input on store decision-making and discounts on products. (Freep)

Air farce: Following news that the Air Force wouldn’t be following state laws around PFAS in its cleanup of a polluted wetland near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base in Oscoda, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is attempting to use a section of the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) to compel them to use the state’s more stringent PFAS standards. Michigan Sen. Gary Peters added the provision to the NDAA, which allows governors to request that the military follow state laws when cleaning up Department of Defense sites. The cleanup around Wurtsmith is expected to cost more than $250 million and it’s one of 16 sites in Michigan where PFAS contamination is linked to toxic firefighting foam used by the military. (MLive) 

No action on shutoffs: Although COVID-19 continues to batter the state, Michigan’s moratorium on water shutoffs have expired. Several communities including Detroit, Flint, and Oakland County will continue with their own shutoff moratoriums, but questions remain about a number of water systems across the state. State Sen. Stephanie Chang introduced legislation to create a statewide ban on shutoffs through June 30, but the bill has not moved out of committee. Nationally, U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell and Rashida Tlaib are pushing for a moratorium “at least through the end of the COVID-19 global health pandemic.” (Detroit News)

Testing the water: The west Michigan town of Benton Harbor has been seeing lead in its drinking water in excess of the “action level” of 15 parts per billion since 2018, although it’s not clear what’s causing the problem. Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) advised the city to install corrosion control treatment — which can reduce the amount of lead that enters drinking water from service lines — and perform a corrosion control study. And the city said it’s increased the frequency of water testing and how many houses are being sampled from. Still, while lead levels in the predominantly Black Benton Harbor have ranged from 24 to 32 ppb in recent years, their mostly white neighbor, St. Joseph has had levels at 9 ppb for the last three years. “They (St. Joseph) have the resources to do what needs to be done to make sure they have less in their water than everybody else,” said Rev. Edward Pinkney, a civil rights activist and leader of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council. “That’s the No. 1 issue: resources.”  (Detroit News)

It’s everywhere: national study that tested drinking water from 120 locations — including several in Michigan — showed that 35 percent of samples had potentially hazardous levels of PFAS, 8 percent contained arsenic and 118 of 120 samples had detectable levels of lead. The presence of PFAS or “forever chemicals” may be especially concerning because of its association with health conditions like thyroid disease and kidney cancer, as well as the fact that at least some level of the substances were found in 117 samples. (Guardian)

Needless suffering: In yet another water study, Cornell University and Food and Water Watch found that states that suspended water shutoffs during the COVID-19 pandemic reduced the rate of infections and death compared with those that did not. According to the study, if the 41 states without a moratorium on shutoffs had adopted one, COVID-19 cases could have been reduced by 4 percent and deaths by 5.5 percent, saving at least 9,000 lives. “This study shows the importance of a national standard for access to water, especially for low-income households,” said Mildred Warner, a professor of local government at Cornell University. “The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed so many structural inequities in our society, and access to drinking water is one that demands our attention.” (Guardian)


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