From the headlines – March 21 – 25, 2022

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Help on the way: Large amounts of money could be headed to Detroit to fix water infrastructure, prevent flooding and improve drinking water, among other priorities. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reached a deal with the Michigan Legislature Thursday for a $4.8 billion spending plan to use Covid relief funds and federal infrastructure dollars to invest in things like cleaning up PFAS contamination and repairing dams. Two billion will be spent on improving drinking water and water infrastructure. The state will also receive $86 million in federal disaster relief for last June’s flooding, with $57.6 million slated to go to Detroit and $16.3 million to Dearborn. Some of this money will go to Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood to protect residents from basement flooding and rising water levels on the Detroit River. Michigan, Detroit and Dearborn are required to develop plans that show how they will use this funding and make these available for public comment for 30 days. (Detroit News)

Road closed: The Michigan Department of Transportation has set aside $270 million to remove I-375 in downtown Detroit and replace it with a boulevard, but Detroiters will have to wait until 2027 for the project to begin. When it was built in the 1950s, the freeway spur bulldozed the predominantly Black neighborhoods of Black Bottom and Paradise Valley, part of a wave of freeway building in communities of color nationwide that destroyed wealth and increased air and noise pollution. Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said Black residents and businesses should benefit from the opportunities created by the freeway’s removal. (Crain’s, Grist)

Short on outcomes: Bloomberg took a look at the Stellantis’ factory on the east side of Detroit and the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) investigation of whether Michigan regulators violated civil rights law by allowing the plant to increase emissions in a predominantly Black area while reducing them elsewhere. The case could pave the way for the EPA to treat environmental injustice in the same way as housing or employment discrimination, where the impact of discrimination can be acknowledged without having to improve intent. Nick Leonard, executive director for the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, says that Gov. Whitmer and Michigan’s Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) have failed to produce the results that communities want when it comes to environmental justice. He says the administration has focused on procedures and creating staff positions around “environmental justice”, but hasn’t done enough to protecting residents from high levels of lead in drinking water. “Procedures are only as good as the better outcomes they produce,” Leonard said. “We’re short on better outcomes as it relates to EJ.” (Bloomberg, Great Lakes Now)

Magnets, how do they work? Tanner Torrez and Jason Vanderwal have been magnet fishing on the Detroit River and elsewhere over the past year, using large magnets to  pull guns, knives, brass knuckles and other potentially crime-related ephemera out of the muck. Like other magnet-fishers, Torrez and Vanderwal are required to forward any weapons to local authorities. “People tell me all the time: ‘All I caught was nails. How come I don’t catch stuff like you do?’ And I always tell them: This hobby is all about cleaning the waterways. The other stuff is just a bonus,” Vanderwal said. Torrez, a film major at Michigan State, has been documenting their work and on July 16 the two of them will host a magnet fishing fundraiser at John D Dingell Park in Ecorse. (Detroit News)  

Hot water: Recent research shows the Great Lakes are experiencing more extreme and long-lasting heatwaves, putting native fish like cisco at risk. These long, silvery fish require ice cover to protect their eggs over the winter, and warmer weather is depriving the water of the oxygen the fish need. The heat is also making it easier for invasive species to spread and is driving algal blooms that further deplete oxygen from the water. “We know that the native species in the Great Lakes adapted to a lake ecosystem that is typically more stable, and we have already seen challenges for native species with the disruptions in the lakes over the last few decades,” said Randall Claramunt, the Lake Huron basin coordinator for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “Wide fluctuations in temperatures can promote invasive species invasions, disrupt nutrient flow, and increase natural mortality rates of fish.” (Freep)

Public comment: EGLE is opening up a 60-day public comment period for its environmental justice mapping and screening tool, MiEJScreen. The tool is intended to allow Michigan communities and government agencies to identify areas that are disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards as well as examine and map cumulative impacts from pollution. The tool could help guide policy decisions and inform planning to improve the quality of life for residents in areas experiencing environmental harm. Two info sessions are scheduled for Tuesday, March 29. 

‘I’m not sure what happened to the workers’: The EPA added the former Michener Plating plant in Jackson, Michigan to its Superfund list, identifying it as one of the most polluted sites in the country. The pollutants found on the four-acre parcel near the Grand River include hexavalent chromium, arsenic, and volatile organic compounds. Toxic PFAS chemicals have been detected in the groundwater. “To keep the workers from breathing toxic chrome fumes when they were molten, they misted the area with an oil,” said Jackson County Drain Commissioner Geoffrey Snyder. “Turns out, the oil is PFAS. I’m not sure what happened to the workers, but there is PFAS standing in the building in the Grand River, Michigan’s longest river, finding its way to the Great Lakes.” Over 65,000 people obtain water from private wells within four miles of the site. (Detroit News)

Do not eat: New research shows that PFAS in Lake Superior smelt is more common than previously believed, leading regulators to issue an advisory that people only eat one eight-ounce serving a month. The warning coincides with the Lake Superior smelt run, endangering a staple food for Roger LaBine, a member of the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, who is already limiting his walleye consumption on account of mercury contamination. “That’s just an additional contaminant that is infecting the great waters of the Great Lakes,” he said. “Everything that we actually hunt or fish or gather has been affected.” Yet, one bit of hope comes from southeast Michigan’s Huron River, where the level of PFAS in fish has declined since the Wixom auto-supplier Tribar Manufacturing began filtering its effluent. (Bridge)


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