When the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality held its last meeting at River Rouge High School a few weeks ago, many concerned residents filled the auditorium to give their comments. Emma Lockridge took the microphone with a surgical mask in hand.
“Last night, I had to sleep. I had to sleep in this. That I got from the doctor’s office because the odors are so strong I get tired of putting a pillow over my head, the covers over my head, so I just decided when I was at the doctors to grab a few to make my sleeping a little bit easier.”
Lockridge isn’t the only resident to complain about the air quality in a highly industrial area of southwest Detroit. Emmanuel Sanders lives nearby.
“I used to live on the Northwest side when I was growing up in my younger years, and now I’m 38 now, and it seems like in the last few years, like my allergies, and I don’t know if its my allergies or not but they seem worse from maybe a year or two years ago and I’ve been out this way for two years.”
Many residents say besides the foul odor, sulfur dioxide pollution from nearby factories is causing respiratory illnesses.
Don Bilinski is a teacher at River Rouge High School.
“Well one thing I’ve noticed since I started here in 1997 is the amount of kids we’re rushing to the hospital by ambulance for asthma has increased. It used to be a very rare occasion or maybe someone forgot their medicine but now it seems like we’re having more and more students be affected by asthma.”
Don Bilinski, Teacher at River Rouge High School
Parts of southwest Detroit and Downriver are classified by the EPA as a “non-attainment” area for sulfur dioxide. That means chemical levels exceed the national air quality standards.
Local leaders, including Detroit’s public health director and the Wayne County Commission, have issued statements against the proposed Marathon refinery expansion, but Ecorse Councilmember Donald Agee says the issue is bigger than local government.
“Honestly, I don’t think I have enough power for anything like that. This is probably a statewide government issue.”
Donald Agee, Ecorse Councilmember
Ultimately, the call to allow the expansion falls on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. Lynn Fiedler is the chief of the agency’s Air Quality Division. She says though the area has high levels of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants, Marathon only contributes a fraction of it.
“Marathon was originally proposing 22-tons. Some of the facilities we’re talking about they’re drivers are 55,000 tons. It’s a much bigger source that has a much bigger impact. The 22-ton increase doesn’t make an impact on the attainment or nonattainment status. It isn’t changing the status enough.”
Lynn Fiedler, Chief of the MDEQ
Now, the Detroit City Council is calling on representatives from the DEQ and Marathon, as well as residents concerned about the refinery expansion to make comments at a public hearing. It will be held tonight at the Patton Recreation Center at 6 PM.