Environment Michigan, coalition partners, and local residents file intent to sue Detroit incinerator
Nathan Murphy, Environment Michigan (517) 303-8692
Kathryn Savoie, Ecology Center (313) 733-0039
Nicholas Leonard, GLELC (313) 782-3372
Natalee Goto, local resident (313) 920-6981
Environmental groups to sue operators of Michigan’s largest incinerator over air pollution violations
DETROIT – The citizen-based nonprofit groups Environment Michigan and the Ecology Center announced today that they are taking the required steps to trigger a lawsuit against the operators of the DRP Incinerator, Michigan’s largest trash incinerator. The legal action against Detroit Renewable Power LLC and Michigan Waste Energy, Inc. aims to address the incinerator’s ongoing breaches of the federal Clean Air Act.
The Clean Air Act’s “citizen suit” provision allows private individuals and organizations to sue violators in federal court, but only after first providing 60 days’ notice to the violator and government agencies. The 60-day notice letter sent today lists some 600 violations of federal hourly limits on carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide emissions over the past five years. These acts, which endanger Detroit residents’ health, include instances of carbon monoxide levels up to four times higher than the legal limit.
“Past enforcement actions against the DRP incinerator have focused primarily on odors,” explained Nathan Murphy, State Director of Environment Michigan. “But this lawsuit will focus on an even more serious problem: the emissions of hazardous air pollutants that affect human health, and chemicals that contribute to ground-level ozone and urban smog.”
The suit, which will be filed on behalf of the groups by the non-profit National Environmental Law Center and Great Lakes Environmental Law Center (GLELC), will highlight how high levels of carbon monoxide being produced by the incinerator indicate incomplete combustion of the trash, which leads to numerous health risks.
“When the trash isn’t burned completely, the incinerator emits highly dangerous chemicals such as benzene, toluene, acrolein, and formaldehyde,” said GLELC Executive Director and attorney Nicholas Leonard. “Unless the DRP incinerator strictly complies with its federal limits on carbon monoxide, the danger that these other noxious chemicals spew into local neighborhoods will remain.”
“Living near the incinerator, we hear noises and smell odors all the time,” said Natalee Goto, a resident of Detroit’s Poletown community. “But what I'm really concerned about are the health impacts of the things we can't see or smell, but are breathing in every day.”
The DRP incinerator burns nearly a million tons a year of solid waste to generate steam (for heating) and electricity. In the process, the incinerator emits air pollutants through a large smokestack. Those pollutants impact those who live and work within two miles of the incinerator, which includes the Midtown and East side neighborhoods, Downtown, Wayne State University, the Detroit Institute of the Arts, and other Detroit cultural institutions.
“We are taking this action to protect the health of Detroit families who suffer from high rates of asthma and other health concerns. When the incinerator repeatedly violates the Clean Air Act, it adds to the health burden of residents who live near the incinerator,” said Kathryn Savoie, Detroit Community Health Director for the Ecology Center. “Our goal is to get the incinerator to operate in compliance with the law.”
The lawsuit will be filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, located in Detroit. The groups will seek both a court order requiring the DRP incinerator to comply with its Clean Air Act permit and also civil penalties against Detroit Renewable Power and Michigan Waste Energy to punish them for past violations and to deter future violations.
Environment Michigan is the state arm of Environment America, a citizen-funded environmental advocacy organization with members in Michigan. For more information, please visit our website at www.environmentmichigan.org.
The Ecology Center is a Michigan-based organization that develops innovative solutions for healthy people and a healthy planet. For more information, please visit our website at www.ecocenter.org.
The non-profit Great Lakes Environmental Law Center (GLELC) offers community education, policy support, and legal services to address environmental, resource, & energy issues affecting communities in and around Detroit and throughout the Great Lakes region.
The non-profit National Environmental Law Center (NELC) is an environmental litigation group. NELC will be joined in the lawsuit by environmental attorney David Nicholas of Newton, Massachusetts.