June 4, 2014

Michigan Required to Address Statewide Air Quality Concerns By 2015

June 4, 2014

Alison Flowers, Sierra Club, 303-246-6297alison.flowers@sierraclub.org
Brad Van Guilder, Sierra Club, 313-205-6386brad.vanguilder@sierraclub.org

Michigan Required to Address Statewide Air Quality Concerns By 2015
Residents testify about cumulative health impacts of pollution at state hearing

LANSING, Mich. -- The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is submitting a new plan to the EPA that must ensure that air pollution does not exceed levels established to protect public health. The state plan, due by April 2015, must prevent unhealthy levels of key dangerous pollutants -- sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and ground-level ozone (smog) -- that contribute to diseases like asthma. At least eight counties in Michigan have levels of ozone and sulfur dioxide pollution above the federal air quality standards.

MDEQ is proposing to maintain the status quo, rather than drafting requirements that would end pollution violations by aging coal-fired plants, which are responsible for a significant portion of the emissions. More than 900 petitioners have called on MDEQ to create strong safeguards.

“There is something terribly wrong when the state of Michigan allows any of its counties to become sacrifice zones for pollution, leaving families to suffer the chronic health effects,” said Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune, while in Detroit for a conference. “Heavy industrial polluters like DTE Energy should not be given a free pass to violate our federal air quality standards that were created to protect residents.”

The EPA has already designated a portion of Wayne County as failing to meet the air quality standard for sulfur dioxide. Exposure to sulfur dioxide  in even very short time periods—such as five minutes—can have significant health impacts to human health, including causing decrements in lung function, aggravation of asthma, and respiratory and cardiovascular morbidity. Sulfur dioxide exposure can also aggravate existing heart disease, leading to increased hospitalizations and premature deaths.  Asthmatics, children and the elderly are especially at risk from such pollution. 

Wayne County has the highest number of pediatric asthma cases in Michigan, coupled with the highest state population living in poverty, according to a 2014 American Lung Association report. The City of Detroit and nearby downriver communities are, combined, a heavily polluted area deemed the “Epicenter of Asthma Burden” by the Michigan Department of Community Health.

According to the NAACP, DTE -- the utility that owns and operates three of Wayne County’s top sources of sulfur dioxide air pollution (DTE’s River Rouge plant, Trenton Channel plant and EES Coke at U.S. Steel) -- is one of the worst environmental justice offenders based on its plants’ impacts on low-income communities. These plants are responsible for at least 85 percent of all sulfur dioxide emissions in Wayne County.

Other Michigan counties are at risk of exceeding the same sulfur dioxide standard, including St. Clair, Macomb, Eaton, Clinton, Ingham, Ottawa, Monroe, and Marquette Counties.

The public hearing to address the state’s plan will be held today, Wednesday, June 4, at Constitution Hall (William Ford Conference Room, 2nd Floor) at 525 W. Allegan St. in Lansing.