Detroit Residents Getting Burned by Polluting Trash Incinerators


The Covanta Michigan Waste Energy incinerator in Detroit. Image from Google Maps.

Residents in one Detroit neighborhood are anxiously awaiting the decision of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and the Environment (MDNRE) on whether a polluting trash incinerator will receive a renewal permit to keep operating. Rhonda Anderson, an environmental justice organizer with our Detroit Chapter said the Covanta Michigan Waste Energy incinerator has been operating for 20 years, and that has been detrimental to the community's health along with the many other industrial facilities all in the same neighborhood.

Anderson said asthma is at the top of the list of ailments suffered in the community, and the list also includes cardiovascular disease, cancer, hypertension and diabetes. She says too many of these large industrial facilities are sited in low-income and African-American communities, and proponents say the trade-off is more jobs.

"Way too often black communities are faced with the aspect of having to choose between a job and clean air, a better quality of life," she explained. "Large industries like Marathon Oil Refinery and DTE Energy are located in our communities, and the promises of jobs are never realized.

"These industries' claims of jobs -- like those from Marathon Oil when they announced their 2.2 billion dollar expansion -- offer up very few, if any, jobs for local residents. Most of the employees live outside of the community hosting the industry."


A Google Maps satellite view of the Covanta Michigan Waste Energy incinerator.

For Anderson, it shouldn't have to be a choice between health and employment, as she stated in this powerful quote from a recent article on a May 17th hearing about the Michigan Waste Energy permit:

"You have a situation where polluting facilities are located in communities of color, first, and low-income areas, second. It's not a coincidence. I should not have to choose between your job and my child sitting up in children's hospital with asthma."

So Anderson, and a long list of other local organizations are united in pushing an alternative to this incinerator: More curbside recycling, which creates green and clean jobs such as processing waste, separation of waste, collection, and staffing drop-off centers.

"Presently we have two pilot projects happening. We are encouraging city council and the administration to continue funding for these projects and to widen the area of the pilots."

The coalition for more recycling includes Rosedale Recycles, Southwest Detroit Environmental Vision, Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice, Great Lakes Bioneers Detroit, Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength, and Greenacres Woodward Civic Association. Ecology Center, Michigan Environmental Council, East Michigan Environmental Action Council, and Green for All.

If you want to help the coalition defeat this incinerator, they encourage folks to email Detroit Mayor Dave Bing before the June 16th meeting of the Greater Detroit Resource Recovery Facility Board to tell him there should be no investment in the incinerator.

For Anderson and the coalition, this battle against the incinerator is unfortunately another part of on-going struggle for environmental justice.

"Detroit is the poster child for environmental justice," she said. "We have communities of color and low-income communities living in the shadows of dirty energy producers and polluting industry. Nearly 90% of African-Americans in Metro Detroit lives within 30 miles of a coal fired power plant, which means they are more likely to have asthma and make more hospital visits.

"Detroit is a post-industrial city leaving behind old abandoned industrial sites, and those that continue to operate do so at the cost of nearby residents' health and quality of life."

Read more about environmental justice:
The Importance of Environmental Justice
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom: Environmental Justice is the Great Challenge of Our Time
7 Executive Orders President Obama Should Sign to Protect the Environment: Center for Progressive Reform

Tags: Detroit | Environmental Justice

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