Detroiters near an east side automotive factory hit with six air quality violations in a year are frustrated over a lack of clarity on when mandated pollution controls will take effect, and question whether promised environmental projects will truly benefit neighbors.
Residents weighed in during a virtual public meeting this week on Stellantis’ September proposal to address its ongoing environmental violations, demanding urgent action to protect their health.
Under its tentative consent order with the state, Stellantis would pay $62,863 to the State of Michigan General Fund and invest another $212,000 into environmental projects in the area.
The agreement would require Stellantis to install technology to control the pollution after its permit is approved by state environmental regulators. Officials with the state say they expect the pollution controls would take effect next year, but during the meeting on Wednesday officials with the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) could not give a definite date.
“We have been breathing this toxic air for over two years. We cannot wait another six months, eight months,” Detroit resident Rhonda Theus said of the unclear timeline for the pollution controls to be installed. “The requirements to have them mitigate this needs to be immediate, and it should not be tied to anything else. It should be a priority in and of itself, because the health of the residents of this community are at stake.”
Stellantis received its sixth violation two weeks ago and in response to the notice from EGLE, Marnie Levergood, plant manager for the FCA Detroit Assembly Complex on Mack, explained that when the older equipment was replaced on Sept. 30 that “the interruption of the odor neutralization system lasted roughly 2.5 hours.”
“Thus, while the replacement of the original dosing regulator with a newer and more robust version will improve the overall performance of the odor neutralization technology at Mack, the equipment replacement project may have unexpectedly resulted in short-term odors near the facility,” Levergood wrote.
“As you are aware, FCA has already proposed a long-term odor control technology to address the potential odor concern at Mack,” added Levergood, noting the pending application with EGLE to install more pollution control technology.
Past violations at the facility have been due to strong odors and pollution emissions from not installing the technology that the company was supposed to. Since the facility began operating, nearby residents have reported burning eyes and throats, new and worsened health issues, and an awful smell in the air.
“This is the first step in resolving those past violations,” Mary Ann Dolehanty, director of EGLE’s Air Quality Division, said Wednesday.
According to the state, 90% of odor and emissions violations are resolved through consent orders. The other important aspect of enforcement, EGLE officials noted, is monetary penalties.
But residents and politicians have raised multiple concerns about the terms of the proposed consent order. Mainly, the unclear timeline for the pollution controls to be installed and projects to benefit Detroiters directly harmed by the pollution. The environmental projects consist of planting trees and upgrading the building management system at Southeastern High School.
“It’s ludicrous to me that this should be tied to a PR campaign, putting trees and fixing the school, for Stellantis,” said Eden Bloom, a Detroit resident and organizer with the Detroit People’s Platform.
Detroit resident and activist Renard Monczunski added that if pollution controls could be installed at Stellantis’ Warren facility then they could be done in Detroit.
“Any sort of mitigation that is not directly impacting residents, is really just corporate mitigation,” he argued. “It’s blatant environmental racism.”
Another meeting attendee asked whether the state could take away Stellantis’ tax breaks. In 2019, the state approved more than $30 million in tax incentives for FCA’s expansion in Detroit.
“That isn’t something that we’re open to in our enforcement negotiations. But it’s an interesting question,” said Jenifer Dixon, an outreach specialist for EGLE’s air quality programs, who was moderating the meeting.
Comments can be submitted on the proposed consent order until Nov. 2. A decision on the consent order will be made after the public comment period closes. Once the consent order is signed, it is a legally binding contract, and Stellantis would be subject to fines if they violate the order.
“If you’re a community member and are still smelling something, anywhere from now to in the future, please continue to call us,” said Erin Moran, an enforcement officer for EGLE. “This enforcement action was a result of community complaints.”
Complaints can be submitted to EGLE online, by phone at (517) 284-0900, or mailed to the Michigan Department of the Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE), Air Quality Division, Enforcement Unit, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, Michigan 48909-7760.