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Issues Of The Environment: Ecology Center In Ann Arbor Celebrates Shutdown Of Detroit Incinerator

Melissa Cooper Sargent
The Ecology Center

For those living near a trash incinerator in Detroit, the smell was awful, and the air quality just as bad.  Asthma rates far exceed state averages, and many living in the area felt powerless. Melissa Cooper-Sargent is Green Living Resource Director for the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center and lives with her children in the vicinity of the incinerator.  From the Ecology Center, the 'Breathe Free Detroit' campaign was launched, and, as of the end of May, the incinerator shut down.  Sargent joined WEMU's David Fair to discuss the details on this week's "Issues of the Environment."


  • At the end of May 2019, the Detroit incinerator shut down permanently.  The incinerator, one of the world’s largest, had operated as a “bad neighbor” for over 30 years, repeatedly violating the Clean Air Act and odor restrictions.  The Breathe Free Detroit Campaign (a grassroots campaign of the Ann Arbor-based Ecology Center) stated that the “DRP [Detroit Renewable Power, which owned and operated the facility since 2010] violated the federal Clean Air Act 446 times in 2015 and 2016.  The violations include failure to monitorsulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide, and nitrous oxides, exceeding allowed limits of carbon monoxide emissions, and failure to effectively capture particulate matter.”

  • The closure of the plant was celebrated by advocates for public health and environmental justice.  The Metro Times reports, “A decade ago, the ZIP codes near the facility had the highest rates of asthma hospitalization in Detroit — where the asthma hospitalization rate is already triple the state average.”  According to the Breathe Free Detroit Campaign, “76,681 children live within 5 miles of the incinerator. 87% of residents within one mile are persons of color; 60% live below the federal poverty line, with 20% unemployment.”

  • The incinerator burned nearly 3,000 tons of daily trash, trash which will now go to a landfill.  The EPA still states that incinerators are preferable to landfills, despite the fact that health-threatening particulates and sulfur dioxide are released into the air and toxic ash must still be sent to landfills.

  • According to the Detroit News, “The incinerator had been under two consent agreements with the state and has exceeded pollution emissions standards more than 750 times over the last five years, according to a recent report by a campaign of environmentalists and community members fighting to get the plant closed.”

  • Melissa Cooper-Sargent, Green Living Resource Director for the Ecology Center, lives with her children a few miles from the Detroit incinerator site, and she has been instrumental in the Breathe Free Detroit campaign that ultimately led to the shutdown.  She says we must all be mindful of the fact that our trash ends up somewhere, and it can lead to quality of life issues and environmental issues for many.

  • The Breathe Free campaign also led to efforts by The Ecology Center to begin air quality monitoring in Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor, and other locations in Washtenaw County.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu

Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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