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Detroit-Area Leaders Accuse State of Environmental Injustice at Waste Plant

Increased truck traffic is among the concerns of residents near the U.S. Ecology plant. (D. Weckerle)
Increased truck traffic is among the concerns of residents near the U.S. Ecology plant. (D. Weckerle)
September 22, 2017

DETROIT - For nearly 30 years, the U.S. Ecology toxic-waste facility in Detroit has received waivers from the state for conducting annual soil tests, and as the plant prepares to expand, residents and local leaders have had enough.

The plant stores and treats solid and liquid waste from heavy industry as well as hazardous household waste. The proposal would allow the plant to expand its storage capacity almost tenfold, and still not require soil testing.

Wayne County Commissioner Martha Scott, who represents the area, called the plan an outrage.

"When they're in poor neighborhoods, they feel that they can just do anything to these people because those who can move have moved," she said. "These are seniors, and people who have paid for their homes. They can't go anywhere else."

A representative of U.S. Ecology said the Georgia Street facility has operated safely in the community for more than 40 years. However, records show the company has been cited on multiple occasions for violating state and federal codes, including those that control air quality. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is expected to make a decision on the expansion permit by the end of this month.

The city of Detroit recently drew up a Host Community Agreement with terms the plant must follow. However, the Rev. Sharon Buttry, who lives and works near the plant, said even that deal is unfair. Under its terms, the plant can change the types of materials it accepts with 30 days' notice to the city, and not the public.

"We see this really as an environmental-justice issue because these kinds of facilities are located in low-income communities, communities of color, immigrant communities," said Buttry, chairwoman of the Hamtramck Community Initiative.

Scott said she doesn't feel state officials have learned much from past mistakes.

"They select poor communities and take advantage of them, and the state really does not care," she said. "If you can poison a whole city in Flint, Mich., you do not care."

An estimated 10,000 people live within one mile of the Georgia Street plant.

Mona Shand, Public News Service - MI