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Great Lakes Environmental Law Center Sends Gives Notice of Intent to Sue Regarding Incinerator Violations

November 14, 2016

The Detroit trash incinerator, operated by Detroit Renewable Power, has been repeatedly cited for violating the Clean Air Act. The Great Lakes Environmental Law Center has submitted a notice of intent to sue letter to Governor Snyder, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and Detroit Renewable Power announcing their intent to file a citizen suit for over 40 violations of the Clean Air Act dating back to 2015.

East Michigan Environmental Action Council joins the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center and other Michigan organizations in this important next step for community environmental protection. For more information about the incinerator, see our Detroit Incinerator Fact Sheet.

From the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center Press Release, October 17: 

In 2015, over 650,000 tons of household garbage was burned at the incinerator. However, very little of that garbage actually comes from Detroit households. According to records, 66% of the household garbage burned at the incinerator comes from Oakland County while only 19% originates from Wayne County. Household garbage from Ohio, Illinois, and Canada is also burned at the incinerator. “It is not acceptable that as Detroiters move toward city-wide recycling and reducing the amount of their waste that goes to the incinerator, that they are subject to poor air quality and respiratory health issues due to waste from other communities and Detroit Renewable Power’s repeated failure to control its air pollution as required by law,” said Sandra Turner Handy, the community engagement director for the Michigan Environmental Council. 

The incinerator places a substantial environmental and public health burden on Detroit residents. Since the start of 2015, the incinerator committed 21 violations for strong odors wafting from the incinerator and 19 violations for emitting carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and particulate matter above legally allowed limits. According to the EPA, 7,280 residents live within 1-mile of the incinerator, 87% being people of color. The surrounding neighborhood is an asthma hotspot, with rates much higher than the Michigan average. 

“The incinerator is an outdated facility and the owners of the facility have shown no concern for the negative health and environmental impacts that the incinerator has on the nearby community, as evidenced by its recent air quality violations,” said William Copeland, the climate justice director for the East Michigan Environmental Action Council. “Given the environmental injustice and health challenges that nearby residents continue to face because of the incinerator, it’s important that the Clean Air Act be aggressively enforced against the facility.” 

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality or the Environmental Protection Agency now have 60-days to commence an enforcement action. If no enforcement action is pursued by either agency, then the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center may file a citizen suit on behalf of local residents and organizations to enforce the Clean Air Act. “Detroit should not be the dumping ground for the State, the Midwest, or Canada and every Detroit residents has the right to breathe clean air free from odors and harmful pollutants,” said Nick Leonard, a staff attorney with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center. “It’s bad enough that over 80% of the household garbage that is burned at the incinerator comes from outside of Wayne County. It’s even worse that the incinerator continues, with alarming frequency, to fail to comply with the laws that are in place to protect the public health and that Detroiters are suffering an environmental injustice a result.”