From the Headlines- September 27-October 1, 2021

Unanimous decision: On Tuesday, Detroit City Council unanimously approved the Detroit Riverfront Protection Ordinance. The move comes in response to the 2019 dock collapse at the former Revere Copper site, which spilled contaminated soil into the Detroit River. “This legislation is a step forward in rectifying Detroit’s environmental justice inequities,” Councilmember Raquel Castañeda-López said in a statement. “Detroiters deserve the right to play along their riverfront and drink from its waters without fear for their health or safety.” Under the new rule: 

  • Property owners on the river will be required to submit a seawall report every five years and businesses storing bulk materials, using heavy equipment, or developing property will need to provide a geotechnical report. 
  • The city’s Building, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department will keep a registry of waterfront property owners that will be publicly available. 
  • Property owners will need to notify authorities of an emergency like a shoreline collapse or spill within 48 hours. (Metro Times, Detroit News)

Detour: Detroit Grand Prix Chairman Bud Denker previously said the race would be forced to leave Detroit if it couldn’t be held on Belle Isle. But apparently, Denker had a change of heart and is proposing that the race take place downtown beginning in 2025. While on the island, the setup and tear-down period for the race has been as long as 120 days, although it was recently compelled to shorten it to 59 days. Residents have long complained about the event’s monopolization of the park during Detroit’s short summers as well as the privatization of one of Detroit’s most important historically Black spaces. (Freep, Crain’s, Metro Times, Planet Detroit)

No safe level: 78 percent of Michigan children have detectable levels of lead in their blood, according to a report in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. There is no safe lead level for children, who are often exposed to the toxic metal from paint in older homes. Lead can cause irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system, leading to problems with learning, behavior, and speech. Nationally, about half of the children in the U.S. were found to have detectable lead levels. However, previous research found that childrens’ lead levels dropped 95 percent between the late 1970s and the period between 2011 and 2016. Congress banned lead in paint in 1978. (Detroit News via Bloomberg)  

Call waiting: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to respond to the lead water crisis in Benton Harbor, although they say they are in communication with residents and Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE). Environmental groups petitioned the EPA to investigate how EGLE had come up with its corrosion control program for the Benton Harbor water system and to develop a federal order for corrosion control. Inadequate corrosion control caused the water crisis in Flint when improperly treated water caused lead from service lines to leach into the water. EGLE began distributing bottled water and filters in Benton Harbor this week. (Detroit News, PBS)

Water risk: Michigan’s ample supply of freshwater is emerging as a selling point as the western U.S. endures a megadrought made worse by climate change. But even in Michigan, 10 counties have aquifers that are so depleted that the state is denying permits for high-volume wells. Farmers increasingly rely on such wells, which have helped deliver $9 billion to 46,500 farms across the state.  “That’s our biggest risk up here is the lack of water. With our sandy soils, we can’t sustain a long drought,”  Ron Gillison, a farmer in Manistee and Wexford counties. The state created an online screening tool for farmers looking to register a new well can see the potential for environmental harm. Registration is essentially automatic for wells without projected damage. The program has been supported by farming organizations, although some conservationists say that it needs to be strengthened with more real-world data. (Circle of Blue, NY Times)

Cars, but electric: There’s been a lot of news about electric vehicles this week–which we are duty-bound to report–while noting the reservations that many in the environmental community have towards individual electric vehicles as opposed to electrified transit. EVs may eliminate tailpipe emissions, but they still use energy, generate pollution from tire and brake wear, require resource-intensive road-building, and–perhaps most importantly–reproduce a two-tiered transportation system that often disenfranchises those who can’t afford a car. Nevertheless:

  • Wireless EVs: Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced an initiative to create a one-mile stretch of road somewhere in southeast Michigan to serve as a pilot for wireless electric vehicle charging. It’s not clear how the technology would work, how soon the pilot project would be operational, or how much it might cost.
  • Factory zero: The U.S. Department of Commerce is giving General Motors $4 million to fix the roads around its electrical vehicle plant on the border of Detroit and Hamtramck. This is an addition to $6.7 million in local funding intended to ensure area roadways can handle increased traffic to the plant. Planet Detroit can confirm that the roads here are currently as smooth as a Sanders bumpy cake. (Crain’s)
  • Tennessee and Kentucky win: Ford announced an $11.4 billion plan for two new battery manufacturing and assembly plants that the company says will create 11,000 jobs, but these will be in Tennessee and Kentucky, not Michigan. “The automotive industry is Michigan’s game to lose, and we’ve lost the first inning,” said Randy Thelen, CEO of The Right Place, a Grand Rapids-based economic development organization. One factor influencing Ford’s decision not to locate the plants in Michigan was our high utility costs. (Bridge)

Repeat offender: This week, a spill of “rusty-colored discharge” from the U.S. Steel Plant in Portage, Indiana closed several Lake Michigan beaches and shut down the Ogden Dunes drinking water intake. The company has idled operations in Portage, following a problem with its wastewater treatment plant. Preliminary tests show that the discharge contains iron (hence its orange color), but it’s unclear what impact this could have on the environment or human health. In 2017, the Portage facility spilled hexavalent chromium–which Detroiters may remember from our very own green ooze–into Lake Michigan, resulting in over $1 million in civil penalties and payments to state and federal agencies to cover costs associated with the incident. (MLive, Indianapolis Star, Michigan Radio)

22 gone: U.S. officials have officially added 22 species to the list of extinct species. Habitat destruction, pollution, and climate change continue to add to the threats faced by at-risk species. “Biodiversity is the foundation of social and economic systems, yet we have not managed to solve the extinction crisis,” said Leah Gerber, an ecologist, and director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes at Arizona State University. (NY Times)


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