DETROIT—On March 27, Detroit Renewable Power made the stunning announcement that, as of that very day, it was permanently shutting down one of the nation’s largest municipal trash incinerators located in the heart of downtown Detroit.
The move elicited instant praise from every corner of the city—from excited and relieved neighborhood residents and environmental activists who had worked for decades to reduce the incinerator’s odors and pollution, and from Detroit’s city officials and public opinion leaders.
Senior Attorney Josh Kratka believes NELC’s Jan. 29 notice of intent to sue the incinerator played a major role in the shutdown decision.
“As required under the Clean Air Act, NELC sent a letter to company officials on behalf of Environment Michigan and the Ecology Center providing 60 days warning that the groups planned to file a federal lawsuit to address hundreds of air pollution violations at the incinerator,” Kratka explained.
“Our 60-day deadline was due to expire just five days after Detroit Renewable Power announced the shutdown.”
The looming federal lawsuit, with its threat of nearly $100,000 per day in civil penalties, combined with a mandate from the state of Michigan to address the gar- bage stench and constant pressure from well-organized community residents, finally forced the company’s hand.
As set out in the groups’ 60-day notice letter, the incinerator’s own reporting showed five years’ worth of repeated incidents of carbon monoxide emissions above legal limits. Carbon monoxide pollution contributes to the formation of ground-level ozone, which is linked to increased rates of asthma and other respiratory problems.
In addition, excessive carbon monoxide emissions from an incinerator show that there is incomplete combustion of the trash being burned. This is an extremely serious matter, as it causes elevated emissions of toxic and cancer-causing pollutants, such as benzene, toluene, formaldehyde and dioxins, which are products of incomplete combustion.
A company official told reporters that it would simply be too costly to bring the aging incinerator into compliance with its legal pollution limits. Arrangements are now being made to instead dispose of the trash at regulated landfill sites, which will remove a clear human health hazard from inner-city Detroit.