sign for the Stellantis facility
The Stellantis facility on Detroit’s east side received its seventh violation this week in just over a year. The auto manufacturer is working with the state on an agreement to settle its past violations and has sought to boost emissions at the facility. (BridgeDetroit photo by Jena Brooker)

An auto manufacturing plant seeking to increase emissions on Detroit’s east side has received its seventh air pollution violation since 2021, prompting another round of criticism from environmental groups and neighbors. 

The Monday violation over excessive emissions is the latest for Stellantis in just over a year. The company is in the midst of working with state regulators on a plan to address past violations but has sought to more than double its release of certain emissions at the plant.

The facility has been the subject of controversy over the last two years with residents protesting the initial permit application for the plant’s expansion amid ongoing concerns over odors coming from the plant and worsened health conditions. Residents and advocates have also escalated a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against the state of Michigan for approving the permit. 

The latest violation was issued by the state after September emissions reports showed that the Jefferson North Assembly Plant was exceeding its limits for Volatile Organic Compounds per vehicle. Volatile organic compounds, a form of air pollution, contribute to the formation of harmful ozone and have been linked to various health issues. 

As a part of Stellantis’ plan to address its violations, the company submitted an application to the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy, or EGLE, to install pollution control technology. The company’s application also included a request to double its particulate matter emissions, unrelated to addressing the pollution. 

Particulate matter is linked with respiratory issues, heart complications, and premature death in people with heart or lung disease, according to the EPA. This year, Wayne County was given an “F” grade for particulate matter air pollution and ozone by the American Lung Association. 

Stellantis told the state it was seeking an increase in emissions after previously underestimating the amount of emissions that would be released. The new requested limits were based on testing done in 2021 and 2022 of actual emissions, plus a 25% buffer, Stellantis told EGLE. 

Stellantis representatives could not be immediately reached Tuesday for comment. 

But Jeff Gearhart, a research director for the Ecology Center, an Ann Arbor environmental nonprofit, told BridgeDetroit that insights about paint shop emissions are “well understood” and the technology is not new.

“The community expects better performance from both the company, as well as the state, in terms of reviewing these permit conditions,” he said.

Gearhart told BridgeDetroit the ongoing violations “raise questions” about the need for more stringent testing before and after permitting, to ensure the company’s plan is achievable. 

“It’s clear that in this case, the company has not even been able to comply with the existing permit,” he said. 

In response to Stellantis’ request to increase emissions, EGLE told the company in June to: “Please provide a detailed list of all steps that were considered and/or taken to reduce the actual (particulate matter) emissions to comply with the current emission limits prior to submitting this application…the application does not specify what, if any, steps were taken by FCA to attempt to comply with the established current emission limits, as were proposed by the company in the original application.” 

Andrew Bashi, an environmental lawyer with the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, said the state shouldn’t approve an increase of Stellantis’ particulate matter emissions and that the state agency was alerted about the community’s health concerns.  

“Reality is that we know that at least one of the census tracts that most immediately borders the facility has the highest rate of asthma in the state of all the census tracts. On top of that, this is a community almost entirely made up of people of color,” he said. 

In 2020, the law center filed a civil rights complaint against EGLE for approving the permit, citing discrimination. 

“The state is well aware about those characteristics of the community and we think that it necessitates maintaining the current limit on particulate matter that’s outlined in the original permit,” Bashi said. 

According to Jill Greenberg, spokesperson for EGLE, this week’s violation will be addressed separately from a consent order proposed in September to address ongoing violations. The proposed order would require Stellantis to address the violations as well as pay into the state’s general fund and invest in environmental projects in Detroit. 

The proposal, still pending approval, was met with criticism from the community during a recent public hearing. One major concern was the lack of a concrete timeline to prevent the violations from continuing to happen. 

Stellantis has until Dec. 5, 2022, to respond to the latest violation notice.

Jena is a BridgeDetroit's environmental reporter, covering everything from food and agricultural to pollution to climate change.

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