From the headlines— February 14-18, 2022

Sustainable development: Detroit has seen the growth of several “EcoDistricts” in recent years, like Hope Village at the intersection of Lodge and Davison freeways, where residents have started a farmers market and are working to foster energy efficiency and build affordable housing. But Hope Village and similar projects in Yorkshire Woods and Southwest Detroit have had difficulty attracting national funding and often meet with pushback from the city. Still, Detroiters like Tammy Black press on with their visions for more sustainable and equitable neighborhoods. Black works to provide solar power for homes in Jefferson Chalmers and is trying to build the Manistique Community Treehouse for children and those with disabilities people. And the group Arcology Detroit is focusing on creating an affordable neighborhood with community ownership and governance that also features community gardens and renewable energy. “I don’t want to be taken over by outside investors,” said Paul Pham from Arcology. “I want to accept people’s loans, but I want the residents to have the final voting power.” (Outlier, Belt)

River cleanup: President Biden visited Ohio this week to discuss how the $1.2 billion federal infrastructure bill would fund cleanups in Great Lakes waterways. Many rivers slated for remediation through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) are in Michigan, including the Detroit River, St. Clair River, and Rouge River. Cleanups are expected to focus on contaminated sediment created by years of industrial emissions in the Detroit and Rouge rivers. But the $1 billion flowing into the GLRI over five years is only half of the $2 billion needed for remediation in some of the most polluted areas in the Great Lakes watershed. It’s estimated that the Detroit River alone has three to four million cubic yards of toxic sediment. (Freep, Great Lakes Now)

‘Clearly environmental racism’: Environmental advocates in Flint are appealing a permit for an asphalt plant near a low-income, predominantly Black area on the edge of the city. “What EGLE (Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy) has done here is clearly environmental racism,” said Eric Ini of Environmental and Climate Justice for Michigan United, a group involved in the appeal. “It is shocking that an agency that is expected to protect communities from pollution is, instead, the one that is spearheading environmental pollution by granting permits for activities like the Ajax asphalt plant that will harm our community.” Advocates say the agency allowed for the permit despite objections from federal housing and environmental officials and that the permitting process is deeply flawed. In its permit application, Ajax used air quality data from Lansing, and Grand Rapids – cities that are many, many miles away from the facility –to show the plant would not violate federal air quality standards. (Detroit News)

Still not safe: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommended Benton Harbor residents keep drinking bottled water, following a petition from environmentalists seeking federal intervention in the city’s lead drinking water crisis. In November, the EPA criticized Benton Harbor officials for lack of record-keeping, failing to give sufficient public notice about high lead levels and chlorine analyzing tools that were “offline” for around two weeks. Rev. Edward Pinkney, a civil rights activist who has been vocal about Benton Harbor’s water problems, says the state needs to deliver bottled water until all the lead service lines are removed. “Since we filed the petition, we’ve learned of additional issues at the water treatment plant that threaten the water quality, including bacterial contamination that makes people sick,” he said. (Detroit News)

World of PFAS: Over the past few weeks, there’s been a flurry of news relating to PFAS, the so-called forever chemicals associated with cancers, decreased immunity, liver disease, and other problems. Here’s a rundown of some of the most important stories affecting Michigan:

  • Experts and U.S. Air Force veterans are accusing defense officials of lying about the dangers of PFAS in drinking water around the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base near Oscoda. The U.S. Department of Defense claims they aren’t aware of data showing Wurtsmith veterans were exposed to PFAS. “That’s a flat-out lie,” said Bob Delaney, a retired geologist EGLE who worked with EGLE at the site. Delaney says 2016 and 2018 studies showed PFAS in water appliances and wells and that these were sent to Air Force officials. However, defense officials never conducted a health study that could have helped veterans receive health and disability benefits. (MLive)
  • Advocates are calling for more scrutiny  of food following tests that showed PFAS in beef from a Michigan farm. How did the PFAS get into the beef?  Likely via PFAS-laden “biosolids” or processed sewage sludge used as fertilizer. Despite previous warnings about sewage sludge contaminating meat, dairy and crops, a Michigan regulator told dairy farmers in 2019 that they would not test milk for PFAS to protect the state’s $15 billion dairy sector. PFAS could also be entering food from pesticides, rain, irrigation water and packaging. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn’t set limits for PFAS in food. The agency recently revised how it tests for these chemicals to only catch very high levels of contamination, a change that advocates say amounts to a cover-up. (Guardian)
  • The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published some tips on choosing the right water filter. Granulated activated carbon filters and reverse osmosis filters can both remove PFAS, although not all filters are certified to remove the chemicals. The National Sanitation Foundation keeps a list of certified filters and the contaminants they remove.

Salted: Road salt and fertilizer created a dead zone at the bottom of Church Lake in Grand Rapids, although turtles, fish, and other wildlife still live in the upper waters. Development and the nearby Highway 44 have likely contributed to high salt levels in the lake, making the deep water too heavy to mix with shallow water and keeping oxygen from penetrating the lower depths. Road salt can reduce auto collisions by up to 85%, and a viable alternative has yet to emerge. “Unfortunately, it’s a human safety versus ecological health problem at this point,” said Ellen Foley, a researcher at Grand Valley State University’s Robert B. Annis Water Research Institute. “The human safety part is going to win out until we find something that keeps us just as safe.” (Bridge)

Calling things by their name: The White House is trying to address the disparate impacts from environmental threats without taking race into account, perhaps because the administration fears legal challenges to programs that use race in their decision-making process. “We are trying to set up a framework and a tool that will survive, and one that still connects to what the on-the-ground impacts are that people are experiencing,” Brenda Mallory, chairwoman of the White House Council of Environmental Quality. “I feel that we can do that based on race-neutral criteria.” Not everyone is happy about this. “When you look at the most powerful predictor of where the most industrial pollution is, race is the most potent predictor,” said Robert Bullard, a professor of urban planning and environmental policy at Texas Southern University. Dorothy A. Brown, a professor of law at the Emory University School of Law, says the administration is likely to get sued over its environmental policies no matter what it does, so it might as well confront environmental racism directly. “So either you’re with the effort to help Black people, or you’re not. But you can’t be timid about it,” she said. (NY Times)


Our reporting 

runs deep.

Get the latest local enviro news in your inbox with Planet Detroit.

Scroll to Top