MichMash: Michigan defers shipment from East Palestine, but regular storage of hazardous chemicals remains

Bridge Michigan’s Janelle James talks about hazardous chemical storage in Michigan and controlled demolition of railcars transporting hazardous chemicals in East Palestine, OH.

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

This photo taken with a drone shows portions of a Norfolk and Southern freight train that derailed Friday night in East Palestine, Ohio are still on fire at mid-day Saturday, Feb. 4, 2023.

In this episode:

  • How often hazardous waste comes into Michigan and the reason the recent shipment was halted
  • The concern residents have because nearby waste facilities in the metro Detroit area
  • Most of the waste shipment that was ordered to go from East Palestine to Michigan was already deposed of

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The train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, raised concerns to nearby residents due to the hazardous chemicals that spilled on the land. There was concern about crops, if the water was clean enough to drink and if the area itself was safe. After the cleanup, the new concern became where the hazardous chemicals were going. Michigan was one of the next stops, and this isn’t new for the state. 

“Hazardous waste comes in and out the state every single day, mostly across Southeast Michigan, but they come from different states, even Canada,” says Janelle James from Bridge Michigan. She elaborates that she understands the concerns of the public but says they were unaware of the state’s history with hazardous chemicals. It was the national attention that brought heightened awareness.  

There are 15 hazardous waste facilities in Michigan. Ten of those facilities are in metro Detroit. James shared that this may even be an issue of environmental injustice.  

“It’s no secret that Detroit is made up of a majority of black people. In metro Detroit and in a lot of neighboring cities, there is a higher population of people of low income. Some may say it creates a disparity that’s unfair and impacts marginalized groups more than other groups.” 

Some of these waste facilities have been around for decades. Although the concerns were raised because of the Ohio derailment, attention should still be paid on the possible effects the waste may have on health.  

“In regard to environmental health concerns, as more studies come out and more information comes out, I think we’ll learn more about that,” says James. One of the trucks carrying the waste chemicals was carrying vinyl chloride. Prolonged exposure to that chemical could lead to liver damage and other health defects. 

The Ohio Environmental and Protection Agency Director, Anne Vogel, reported that there haven’t been any signs of contamination in the air or water as of February 17, 2023. James believes as more information that comes out in the weeks and months, that may change.  

James spoke to the department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and they alluded to the waste shipments as commerce. So, the likelihood of there being a complete stop to shipments isn’t in the near future.  

“Before the 70’s there was no regulation as to how hazardous waste was disposed of. Since then, there has been advancement and there has been regulation but at the end of the day hazardous waste is hazardous waste.” 

During the Obama administration there were regulations that were put in place to deal with trains carrying hazardous waste to have better breaks and more safety measures. “During the Trump administration, all of those regulations were repealed.” It isn’t certain whether that would have made a difference and President Biden hasn’t made mention about putting those regulations back. 

“This issue has become political, just like everything else. Norfolk lobbies millions of dollars to politicians and parties every single year. Now we are seeing the impacts of the regulations being repealed.”  

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  • Hernz Laguerre
    Hernz Laguerre Jr. is a Multimedia Journalist at 101.9 WDET. He is one of the co-host for "Detroit Evening Report," one of the weekend anchors for "Weekend Edition," the producer for our political podcast, "MichMash," and reports on arts, culture and politics.