UPDATE: DEADLINE FOR OBJECTING EXTENDED TO OCT. 12
U.S. Ecology wants to expand east-side facility
Company has decades-long record of environmental contamination
Detroit becoming hazardous waste dumping site for Michigan, U.S.
Predominantly Black, poor communities targeted
State Rep. Rose Mary Robinson asks residents to contact MDEQ
.By Ron Seigel
Sept. 12, 2015
DETROIT — An individual would probably face life in prison if he poisoned a relative to get an inheritance.
What about company executives who spread poison in people’s neighborhoods or the water they drink in order to make a profit?
Should heads of regulatory agencies who allow this to happen be viewed as accessories or accomplices?
State Rep. Rose Mary Robinson (D-Detroit), charges this may soon happen in Detroit. A company with a long record of environmental violations is seeking to expand its hazardous waste facility at 6520 Georgia St., on the east side of Detroit near I-94 and Mount Elliott. The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) is considering the company’s application for a permit.
Ironically, the name of the firm is U.S. Ecology.
Robinson urges people to contact the MDEQ to object by phoning (517) 284-6558, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Information on the MDEQ site on the permit request is at http://www.michigan.gov/deq/0,4561,7-135-3304-359331–,00.html. She emphasizes this must be done as soon as possible, because the deadline for doing so is Saturday, September 12.
Robinson warns if the firm does get MDEQ permission to expand the facility, the building will hold 500,000 tons of hazardous waste from across the state and around the country, some of it radioactive and, some contaminated with PCB’s. What, she asked, if some of this leaks out?
Robinson declared that MDEQ never did a study on possible health effects. Steven Boyle, a Detroiter involved in environmental issues, said that MDEQ documents for this facility contain no plan to deal with disasters.
MDEQ officials were not available for comment and did not return our many phone calls.
Robinson says in her newsletter that nearby schools, hospitals, churches, mosques, and public buildings would be most affected if there was a leak.
“How close is it to your school, place of worship, worksite or neighborhood?” she asks.
She says it is four miles from the Detroit Medical Center, eight-tenths of a mile from the Lodge Playground, three and one tenth of a mile from the Considine Little Rock Family Center on Woodward, one and six tenths of a mile from the Hamtramck Senior Plaza, and one and four tenth of a mile from the Hamtramck City Hall.
Robinson adds the facility is only half a mile from Detroit Water & Sewerage Department facilities, and warns a leak could poison the whole metropolitan Detroit water supply.
VOD has discovered that the firm has had a long record of violating environmental safety regulations.
In 2010 the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made U.S. Ecology pay $497,982, nearly a half-million dollars, for “numerous violations” in Nye County, Nevada. According to a November 2010 EPA newsletter, its unit was “smoking in the air.” PCB’s were “improperly labeled, stored and handled,” and inspectors “detected PCB’s at elevated levels both inside and outside the building and other PCB discharges, which were not reported as required by law.”
The October, 2012 issue of the EPA newsletter stated U.S. Ecology paid nearly $800,000 ($788,120) for violating federal hazardous waste laws in Roberson,Texas.
In April, 1996 Deborah Hastings of the Associated Press wrote that 10 years earlier plutonium and other radioactve material leaked at U.S. Ecology’s nuclear waste facility in Mazey Flat, Kansas and said the EPA superfund listed it as one of “the most polluted sites.”
Hastings also said in 1976 the firm’s employees in Nevada:
- Told state inspectors they illegally poured liquid radioactive wasted directly into the ground for eight years.
- Took contaminated cement and poured concrete slabs into the foundation of a house. She added some slabs set off the inspector’s geiger counter.
- With help from the company’s president, some opened radioactive containers before the contents, dishes and hand tools, could be sold in the town. They were then buried.
Mike O’ Callaghan, who was then Nevada’s Governor, said in a published quote, “It was out of control. The whole town was hot.” U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer ID-Cal.) added, “Every site they’ve run has leaked. They left a mess wherever they’ve gone. Their record, I think would give anyone pause.”
U.S. Ecology representatives were not available for comment and did not return our call.
If there are violations, can the public can trust environmental regulators in this state to protect people’s safety?
Several months ago VOD revealed that MDEQ funds were used to demolish houses in Detroit’s Brush Park area in ways that allowed the spread of hazardous asbestos by the wind.
One problem that is being widely ignored is the fact that hazardous and radioactive waste from all over the state and the country will be transported. What if a truck which such material gets into a crash? What will happen to people in the surrounding area?
One question in the forefront of people’s minds is why is such material is slated to come to Detroit. Olivia Brown, a precinct delegate in the area of the facility, asked, “Why do we have to be a dumping ground?”
Some believe the answer is “environmental racism,” a tendency to put such dangerous substances where Black people or low income people live.
When the Clinton Administration in the 1990’s proposed federal civil rights laws banning such practices, opponents, including then Mayor Dennis Archer, argued local officials could be trusted to protect their communities.
Brown wrote letters to local officials, including Mayor Mike Duggan, members of the Detroit City Council, and the Wayne County Board of Commissioners, asking them to speak out on this issue.
“What are you doing at the city level to protect the health and safety of the residents?” she asked them. “Silence can be an abuse of power. Please stand up and take action to protect your residents.”
Neither Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan nor City Council President Brenda Jones responded to calls for comment.
While Black people and the poor may be hardest hit by any possible environmental harm, even affluent white people will not be immune.
As Detroit city officials push some Black residents out of the east side, current officials are boasting about bringing white people in.
The environmental damage may therefore spread to the suburbs. If the hazardous waste poisons the our city and its waters, it will damage our entire state, now labeled “the water wonderland.”