Community responds to Detroit River shoreline collapse, Nuclear waste on Lake Huron & Ice cave stamps!

December 13, 2019 | CO2 2019/2018 411.20 / 409.70 ppm <<

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Community responds to Detroit River shoreline collapse

by Brian Allnutt

U.S. congresswoman Rashida Tlaib set the tone at a meeting of citizens, environmental organizations and government representatives called to address the collapse of the shoreline at the Detroit Bulk Storage site on December 12. The event had set off a radiation scare on account of its use by Revere Copper to manufacture uranium rods for the Atomic Energy Commission in the 1940s and 1950s.

“This is exactly what you need to be doing,” Tlaib shouted to loud applause, encouraging those in attendance to keep up the pressure on lawmakers, government agencies and businesses.

Tests from EGLE that arrived on Wednesday, December 11th had shown no radiation above normal background levels or significant pollution from PCBs, metals or volatile organic compounds either upstream, downstream or just offshore from the spill.

EGLE issued a violation letter on December 11 to North Muskegon-based Erickson's, which owns the property, for illegally filling in the bottomland. The company has 15 days to present a plan for debris removal without disturbing potentially toxic sediment in the river. Paul Max, general manager of environmental affairs for Detroit's Buildings, Safety Engineering and Environmental Department, said that the city will now require all commercial properties to have their seawalls inspected by a third-party engineering firm.

However, not everyone was satisfied with that response. Tlaib asked, “We just cannot rely on these corporate polluters to do right by us.”

Attendees expressed widespread concern about water quality that often reflected Detroit’s history of environmental racism and water crises in Toledo and Flint.

“Water quality in Michigan is a sensitive issue,” said Lawrence. Rising lake levels, government accountability, community oversight, and climate change were also important points of discussion as attendees attempted to come to terms with what happened and what it means for the future.

“Will you tell us the water is safe?” Reverend James Smith asked of the assembled representatives from government agencies.

Tracy Kecskemti, Southeast Michigan District Coordinator for EGLE, didn’t respond to Smith’s questions directly, but said, “this is new territory and it is a challenge” in reference to rising water levels that may have contributed to the incident at Detroit Bulk Storage. The agency predicts levels will be just as high next year, and Kecskemti said they were using “inundation maps” to “identify threats”.

Keith Gunter from the group Alliance to Halt Fermi 3 called attention to radioactive waste elsewhere in the Great Lakes system, pointing out that this event represents a "warning".

“What if we got lucky this time?" Nick Leonard of the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center said in a phone call with Planet Detroit. “We have a lot of industrial space along the Detroit River. Given concerns about rising water levels and climate change—all of these things increase risk.”

Theresa Landrum echoed these words in her public comments.

“This is not a wake-up call,” she said. “This is a crisis call.” Noting that Detroit Public Storage was also involved in storing pet coke for Marathon on the Detroit River, she asked why “we continue to let the bad actors come back?”

Several attendees mentioned the recent gas release at the Marathon refinery and the seeming lack of an adequate emergency response system for events that threaten the environment and public health. Joel Howrani Heeres, Director of Sustainability for the city of Detroit, said that a “revamp” of the emergency notification system was one of the action items on the city’s Sustainability Agenda.

The incident raises a number of questions that local environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, said they will address with policy proposals for city, state and federal officials. In Detroit, these include inventorying contaminated sites on the Detroit River, regularly inspecting industrial facilities and contaminated areas on the shoreline and revising the bulk storage ordinance. Statewide, these groups are looking to require land owners and operators to notify EGLE immediately in the event of a shoreline collapse.

Justin Onwenu, a community organizer with the Sierra Club and the evening’s emcee, said the event was meant to “present a path forward so this doesn’t happen again. It’s all of our jobs to hold them accountable.”

DTE faces a year-end criticism on charitable contributions and a controversial energy plan

This week the Metro Times followed up on its article exploring the possible benefits of a publicly owned utility by taking a look at some of the article’s detractors, including included some prominent Detroiters whose nonprofits receive funding from DTE Energy.

As the Metro Times times writes and Planet Detroit has reported earlier, numerous Detroit community organizations and churches receive substantial funds from the utility’s charitable arm, the DTE Energy Foundation.

DTE said the original Metro Times piece was "ghostwritten" and "possibly paid for by special interest groups." But the Metro Times suggests the detractor’s statements match talking points put forward by the utility itself in e-mails.

In other DTE news, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) issued another broadside against the utility’s Integrated Resource Plan—which lays out how it will provide power in the future and still needs to be approved by the Michigan Public Service Commission. According to UCS:

DTE received failing grades in numerous categories, especially in ensuring equitable access to clean energy benefits, in ensuring affordable energy for all customers, and in building community power like rooftop solar and neighborhood-owned power generation.

Canada could put nuclear waste on the shore of Lake Huron

Like an episode from the world’s worst reality show, Canada has narrowed down the options for storing the nation’s spent nuclear fuel to two locations—and Bruce County, Ontario is one of them. The Free Press reports that the proposed new home for some “128 million pounds of highly radioactive material”—plus whatever is added going forward.

The site is on the shores of Lake Huron, but the idea is to store the material department underground. As we’ve reported before, there are already a number of Superfund sites in Michigan alone that are vulnerable to climate change-induced flooding.

How Flint city officials and contractors covered up the water crisis

Reporters from The Guardian and MLive released a report earlier this week showing how Veolia—which it identifies as “one of the world’s largest utility companies”—covered up lead problems in Flint’s drinking water at the same time as it was trying to secure other lucrative contracts with the city.

In February of 2015, employees at Veolia knew about lead dangers in Flint water, but never went public with their concerns, although it seems they conveyed some of them privately to city officials. Residents didn’t find out about the emergency until September of that year.

All of this was unveiled via emails that are part of a lawsuit against Veolia, which has accused the company of “professional negligence, negligence, public nuisance, unjust enrichment, and fraud”.

Veolia—which maintains several offices in the metro-Detroit area—was called out by The Intercept last year for their involvement in lead crises in both Flint and Pittsburgh. Both cities had struggled to manage their public water systems and sought help from the company.

New rule could keep bottled water in the Great Lakes watershed

Following a defeat for Nestle in a Michigan court, several Michigan lawmakers have introduced a bill that would keep companies from shipping bottled water outside of the Great Lakes watershed.

“We need to manage our (Michigan’s) water responsibly for the benefit of the people of our state, instead of allowing it to be diverted, polluted or exploited for corporate profits,” Rep. Yousef Rabhi said in a press release announcing the three bills proposed by state representatives.

Other bills would help Michigan clarify what waters are within its control—such as groundwater—and increase the Department of Natural Resources’ ability to manage water resources.

The bottled water rule is designed to close a loophole in the Great Lakes Compact that mostly bars diversions of water to places outside the Great Lakes Basin.

PFAS Update: Defense bill limits measures, and Wolverine settles

The new defense bill—i.e. the National Defense Authorization Act—includes many things, with plans for a Space Force among them. However, back here on earth, some citizens are expressing dismay that some provisions addressing PFAS contamination were not included in the bill.

In the bill: Measures to limit and eventually keep PFAS out of fire suppression foam and access to Pentagon remediation funds for active bases (like Selfridge). Out: A drinking water standard and Superfund money for PFAS cleanup.

Also this week, Wolverine World Wide agreed to fund a municipal water system for PFAS-affected areas in Kent County. The $69.5 settlement will also require the company to remediate the site. Full details were not released and the deal must be approved by a federal judge before it becomes binding.

Solutions & Bright Spots!

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Connect: Engage with Detroit’s environment

January 4 | Detroit Garden Center Annual Meeting | Belle Isle Nature Center >>>

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February 1 | ¡Ay Cramba It’s Cold Out! | Shelby Township >>>

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March 13 | Community Treehouse Gala >>>

April 4 | Trash Fishing Exploration - Testing of the boats | Detroit >>>


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