Detroit City Council members are calling on Stellantis and the mayor’s office to protect residents from noxious odors emanating from the automaker’s troubled east side manufacturing plant.
Stellantis has been cited seven times and fined hundreds of thousands of dollars by state environmental regulators for air quality violations since the expansion of its Mack Assembly Plant in 2021. The council on Tuesday unanimously adopted a resolution introduced by Council Member Latisha Johnson in response to repeated complaints from residents that the facility is harming their health. The council’s resolution comes ahead of a Feb. 21 presentation expected before the council by Stellantis representatives on efforts to address resident pollution concerns.
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The resolution calls on Stellantis to either permanently eliminate the plant’s noxious odors or to cover the cost of retrofitting homes nearby with air filters, pollution monitors, HVAC systems and windows to mitigate air pollution. The council is also calling on Mayor Mike Duggan and the state to offer home buyouts or home swaps for those who no longer wish to live near the facility, similar to the relocation program for families affected by the Gordie Howe International Bridge Project.
Council President Mary Sheffield told BridgeDetroit Tuesday that Stellantis is in violation of a community benefits agreement crafted between the automaker and a neighborhood advisory council in 2019. Stellantis has failed to abide by state laws regarding air quality, according to a compliance report released by Detroit’s Civil Rights, Inclusion and Opportunity Department (CRIO).
“The resolution was a first step,” Sheffield said. “I’m looking forward to the discussions and we’re also going to have the neighborhood advisory council (for the Stellantis project) here, too. We need to loop in CRIO as well. I expect a lot more eyes and accountability.”
John Roach, a spokesperson for Duggan, said in an email to BridgeDetroit that the mayor’s administration is focused on “advocating to the state on behalf of impacted residents to help bring about a permanent solution to the odor issue involving the plant.”
Stellantis spokesperson Jodi Tinson said in an email that the automaker respects the right of Detroit City Council to issue a resolution, but did not say whether Stellantis is interested in pursuing land swaps or buyouts. Tinson said Stellantis is working to complete installation of a new regenerative thermal oxidizer “to permanently resolve the odor issue.”
“Even as that work is ongoing, we are operating interim odor controls, which have proven to be effective,” Tinson said.
The council’s resolution was approved one day after Duggan and other city officials gathered to celebrate the voluntary relocation of 70 families through Bridging Neighborhoods, a home swap program for residents near the Gordie Howe bridge project. The program was created in 2017 under a $32 million community benefits agreement negotiated between the city, residents, and the Canadian government, which is funding construction of the new bridge.
That program gives residents affected by the bridge construction an option to exchange their home for one in another neighborhood at no cost. It has been offered to homeowners in the Delray area who want to relocate but were not previously offered a buyout from the state of Michigan. The vast majority of homes provided under the Bridging Neighborhoods relocation program were renovated properties previously owned by the Detroit Land Bank Authority.
Tuesday’s resolution tied to the Stellantis facility argues that residents should have access to rehabbed Detroit land bank homes or offers to have their homes bought out at fair market value.
“The eastside citizens who neighbor and have been negatively impacted by the environmental impacts of the newly expanded Stellantis facility deserve no less than the consideration, accommodations and aid, which was granted to the neighboring southwest Detroit residents of the Gordie Howe International Bridge,” the resolution states.
Stellantis received $160 million in tax incentives to expand its eastside facility, with city officials celebrating the creation of thousands of new jobs and Detroit’s first new auto assembly plant in three decades. The facility has garnered a reputation of pollution since.
Last month, Councilwoman Angela Whitfield-Calloway raised the prospect of having Duggan direct some of Detroit’s federal relief dollars toward addressing the odors from Stellantis, which she has characterized as a “public health emergency.”
Johnson’s resolution notes nearby residents have experienced severe headaches, burning eyes, persistent coughing, tightness in the chest and other symptoms connected to the strong odors. They also are fearful of spending time outdoors or allowing their children to play outside.
State regulators with the Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy issued a $284,000 fine last December, but the council resolution argues that is “insignificant” when compared to the $160 million Stellantis received in tax incentives.
The fine also “fails to address the immediate needs of nearby residents who have been suffering for well over two years,” the resolution adds.
The Detroit Assembly Complex consists of the Mack Assembly and the Jefferson North Assembly Plants. EGLE started “escalated enforcement” against the Jefferson North Assembly facility at the start of this year.
Meanwhile, EGLE started “escalated enforcement” against the Stellantis facility. A Jan. 25 enforcement notice states violations against the company are considered a high priority by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Failure to address the cited violations may result in the matter being referred to the Michigan Attorney General for “commencement of civil litigation,” the letter states.
In a Dec. 21, 2022 letter to state officials, Stellantis representatives argued they are focusing on improvements to minimize emissions of volatile organic compounds and bring the plant back into compliance “as quickly as possible.”
Tinson said the plant has been operating at lower than normal volumes as it ramps up production of the new Jeep Grand Cherokee and it continues to be impacted by an ongoing global microchip shortage. The reduced production volume means emissions from the facility are below emissions standards, Tinson said, but emissions per vehicle increased because Stellantis is producing fewer vehicles.
“Our painting processes and emissions controls are functioning properly, and there is no increased exposure risk to the community,” she said in an email.