From the Headlines – September 6-10, 2021

Emergency in Flat Rock: 1,100 homes were evacuated following a gasoline leak from an underground pipe at the Ford Flat Rock Assembly Plant. More than 1,000 gallons of gasoline are believed to have escaped from the facility and gone directly into the city of Flat Rock’s sanitary sewers. Authorities detected benzene at several residences and the River Heights Academy charter school. Benzene is a flammable chemical found in crude oil and gasoline, which can damage human blood and bone marrow, typically through prolonged exposure. Ford has plugged the leaking line and is using non-PFAS firefighting foam to suppress benzene vapors. The city’s sewers are also being flushed. In response to the spill, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is sending a mobile lab to Flat Rock to test the air inside homes, which will help the state determine if it can lift its voluntary evacuation order. (Detroit News, Freep) 

Flooding help: Wayne County is allocating more than $5 million to help those affected by this summer’s flooding. The program will issue grants to pay for damages not otherwise covered by FEMA or or property insurance. However, Wayne County residents living in Detroit must apply for a separate program administered by the city. The Wayne County application is here. (WXYZ) 

So long DTE? In 2022, Ann Arbor voters could get a chance to vote on a measure to break away from DTE Energy and create a public utility, according to Council Member Elizabeth Nelson. At a Tuesday meeting, the city council voted 11-0 to ask the city’s Energy Commission to give a recommendation on whether the city should perform a feasibility study for a public option. At that meeting, Council Member Ali Ramlawi criticized DTE for ongoing issues with energy reliability in the city. “This is a continuous problem that my residents in the 5th Ward are experiencing. They have no power, can’t work from home, throw away all their food, medical issues, etc., and the problem is persistent,” he said. (MLive)

Safe water now: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer says she wants $20 million to go towards replacing lead service lines in Benton Harbor, following six straight lead exceedances in that city. Whitmer says she would like to see all of the city’s service lines replaced within five years. This is part of a $200 million proposed expansion of the state’s Clean Water Plan for removing lead service lines that the governor believes could be financed with federal COVID relief money. Benton Harbor issued a  public health advisory last month after finding that 10 percent of the water samples from 78 homes exceeded the lead action level of 15 parts per billion. “For at least three years, the people of Benton Harbor have been living with lead-contaminated drinking water, which is why we urgently need safe water right now,” said Rev. Edward Pinkney, president of the Benton Harbor Community Water Council. An emergency petition has also been filed by a group of 20 Michigan and national organizations to the EPA to secure a free source of safe drinking water for the city. (Detroit News) 

Getting outside: People of color make up a third of the U.S. population and roughly a quarter of the state. Yet, 95 percent of visitors to national parks are white, along with 90 percent of visitors to national forests. The location of parks in rural, predominantly white areas and a sense that these spaces are unwelcome to people of color likely contribute to this “nature gap”. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is looking to address this issue by incorporating equity into its new public lands strategy and the agency is developing more parkland downstate, like the Chevy Commons site in Flint. The groups Latino Outdoors and the Black to the Land Coalition are also helping connect more people of color with outdoor experiences. “I grew up wanting to camp. I saw it on TV,” said Djenaba Ali, co-founder of Black to the Land, “but nobody that I knew went camping.” Her group is working to make these experiences more accessible for people in the Detroit area by hosting outings where they assist with gear and transportation. (Bridge Detroit)

Superior slime: Cyanobacteria blooms have come to visit Lake Superior. The lake’s cold temperatures and limited agricultural runoff meant that it wasn’t seen as a likely breeding ground for the toxic algae, which can cause skin rashes as well as respiratory and gastrointestinal problems. Yet, Lake Superior is warming quickly and increasing precipitation has sent nutrients and sediment into the lake that can feed algal blooms. Although none of Lake Superior’s blooms have been found to produce enough toxins to pose a danger, they could threaten the region’s economy, which depends on recreation and tourism. “The blooms made The New York Times,” said Matthew Cooper, an aquatic ecologist and affiliate faculty at Northland College’s Mary Griggs Burke Center for Freshwater Innovation. “Maybe it only affects a few swimming bays, but the perception is a big deal to a community that depends on Lake Superior being clean, clear and beautiful.” (Michigan Radio)

Big goals: The Biden administration released a plan to move the country toward producing 45 percent of its energy from solar power by 2050. Currently, solar generates just 4 percent of the nation’s energy. It’s not clear what specific steps the administration will be taking to advance its goal. “That kind of quick acceleration of deployment is only going to happen through smart policy decisions,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association. “That’s the part where having a goal is important, but having clear steps on how to get there is the issue.” However, the U.S. Department of Energy says that prices for solar panels have dropped so much recently that they could supply 40 percent of the country’s electricity by 2035. (NY Times)

Summer of extremes: This summer, nearly a third of the country lived in a county or state that was designated a disaster area by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This includes areas affected by flash floods, hurricanes, and wildfires, which have become more intense as a result of climate change. And 64 percent of the U.S. population endured a multi-day heatwave this year, considered to be the most dangerous form of extreme weather for public health. An editorial that is running in 200 health journals addresses these sorts of threats, calling on global leaders to take on climate change.  “Health is already being harmed by global temperature increases and the destruction of the natural world, a state of affairs health professionals have been bringing attention to for decades,” the editorial reads. “The science is unequivocal; a global increase of 1.5C above the pre-industrial average and the continued loss of biodiversity risk catastrophic harm to health that will be impossible to reverse.” (WaPo, Guardian)

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