From the Headlines — January 31 – February 4, 2022

More than lead: A number of harmful chemicals like PFAS compounds and pesticides are showing up in Metro Detroit drinking water, according to a searchable database put together by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Many of these are considered safe to consume in small quantities, although EWG says the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations for drinking water are “out of date.” “Most people don’t realize how many contaminants are in their drinking water,” said Sydney Evans, a science analyst for EWG. Contaminants in Metro Detroit drinking water that significantly exceed EWG’s limits include radium, nitrate and hexavalent chromium (which you may remember from the “green ooze” incident). The EPA hasn’t set a new standard for drinking water for two decades and no new contaminants have been added to its list of regulated substances since 2000. It’s perhaps no surprise then that 20% of adults now say they don’t drink tap water, with 35% of African Americans and 38% of Latinx people saying they avoid drinking it. (Metro Times, MI Radio, AP)  

‘Future-proofing’: Michigan’s Department of Transportation will spend $1.9 million, along with an unspecified amount from the company Electreon, on a wireless, EV (electric vehicle) charging road near Detroit’s Michigan Central Station. “There’s important work ahead with our partners in Detroit to develop scalable, ‘plug-free’ charging that will future-proof the city’s EV infrastructure,” Stefan Tongur, vice president of Electreon, said in a press release. And while the future-proofing thing sounds very, very cool, experts question the feasibility of the technology. Among other things, Michigan roads get a lot of potholes in winter and we do a poor job fixing them, let alone repairing expensive technology buried in the pavement. Local transit advocate David Gifford says spending money on the new road also represents an equity issue, subsidizing automakers while forcing bus riders to pay for improved service. (Crain’s, Grist, Freep)

Lost decade: After years of complaints about sulfur dioxide pollution (SO2) in southwest Detroit and charges that federal regulators weren’t doing enough to reign in industry there, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a formal declaration that the region didn’t meet SO2 standards by the required deadline, opening the way for federal oversght. Nick Leonard, executive director of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, tells Planet Detroit it’s hard to tell what EPA’s announcement will mean for southeast Michigan after a decade of high SO2 levels. “Over 10 years later, (we’re) still talking about what our plan is for reducing sulfur dioxide emissions,” he said. “That’s a long time and it’s not how it’s supposed to work.” Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) tried to compel companies like U.S. Steel to reduce emissions, but that company sued EGLE (then the DEQ), alleging emissions limits were “discriminatory, arbitrary, unreasonable and prejudicial.” Leonard says several SO2 emitting facilities have shut down recently, although Wayne County is still in non-attainment for the pollutant, which increases the risk of respiratory tract infections and can aggravate asthma and chronic bronchitis. (MI Radio, MLive)

Public health assist: Several nonprofits will offer a “one stop shop” for health screenings, COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, and assistance with rent and utilities. Food assistance is also available for those with an ID. The program is a partnership between Wayne Metropolitan Community Action, Wayne Health and ICNA Relief, with support from a grant from the CDC Foundation. The event is open to residents of Detroit and Hamtramck and it will take place the first Tuesday of each month from 9 AM to 3PM at the ICNA Relief building at 12500 Mitchell St. (Bridge Detroit)

MIbeef: Michigan officials issued a consumption advisory for beef from Grostic Cattle Co. in Hartland on account of unsafe levels of PFAS in the meatThe PFAS contamination was produced by the application of “biosolids”, or processed human waste, on the fields used for crop production. This is the first known case of PFAS contamination in Michigan beef, although Planet Detroit and others have reported on the possibility of biosolids serving as a pathway for PFAS contamination. Grostic’s roast and steaks were found to have the PFAS compound PFOS present at .98 and 2.48 parts per billion (ppb). There are no state or federal standards for PFOS in beef, but Michigan’s state drinking water standard for PFOS is 70 parts per trillion (ppt). That means these roasts and steaks have PFOS at 980 ppt and 2480 ppt. Charlotte Jameson, chief policy officer for the Michigan Environmental Council, said the incident “makes clear that human exposure to PFAS from biosolids could be a significant pathway and we should therefore ban applying biosolids that contain PFAS to crops while we await further sampling and test results.” (MLive)

Crowded and underfunded: In 2021, Michigan state parks provided 1.4 million camping and lodging nights and accomodated an estimated 35 million visitors. But state parks and regional park systems continue to face budget shortfalls, despite surging popularity. “There are state parks with bad roads, outdated sewer systems, antiquated structures,” said Ron Olson, head of the parks and recreation division for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “People expect a clean place at a park when they go to the bathroom and shower.” Various proposals to use federal COVID-19 stimulus for park upgrades are working their way through state government, although a proposal to send $508 million to the State Park Endowment Fund may run afoul of a requirement that this money goes directly to infrastructure upgrades. (Bridge)

Biden’s first year: A year into his term, President Biden has issued executive orders supportive of better environmental enforcement and environmental justice in communities that have historically been burdened with pollution. Yet, Nick Schroeck, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law, says the failure of the Build Back Better legislation in the Senate has been a major setback for the administration’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and respond to the climate crisis. Another challenge could come from the Supreme Court’s conservative majority who will be considering cases that deal with the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. “That legal cloud combined with a Congress unwilling to enact climate change and EJ (environmental justice) legislation has a chilling effect on activity aimed at addressing EJ impacts and greenhouse gas emissions,” Schroeck said. (Great Lakes Now)


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