Opinion | It’s time to hold Michigan businesses accountable for air pollution

Abdullah Hammoud is a Democratic state representative from Dearborn

The Metro Detroit region rightfully takes pride in its numerous contributions to our state and nation; from automotive excellence and Motown, to the organized labor movement and becoming an example of industrial strength. Unfortunately, its contributions are not all good. Two dubious distinctions we carry are a source of great concern: the quality of our air and the health of the people breathing it. 

Southeast Michigan has one of the worst air quality ratings in the nation, and some of the highest asthma rates to match, because for decades, corporations have polluted our air and compromised the health of our community members, while receiving generous tax credits from the state. As residents of a region built on manufacturing, we must challenge ourselves to move away from the mindset that serving as industry leaders and protecting public health are mutually exclusive options for Michigan. We have evolved, and the conversation must evolve along with us.

Thousands of hardworking residents are able to put food on the table and sustain a roof over their head in Metro Detroit because of our strong manufacturing opportunities. However, their jobs do not insulate them from also feeling the effects of poor air quality based on the actions of their employers. Likewise, the companies cutting corners to pollute our air through their increased emissions — all while receiving state tax credits — are not insulated from their own actions, either. Poor air quality and increased health issues for workers costs companies more in the long run — missed work, decreased productivity and long-term employee care begin to compound due to the health issues workers and their families develop. If we’re going to continue to act as industrial leaders nationally, companies operating in Metro Detroit need to consider the comprehensive impact of their actions, including impact on their own bottom-line. 

Last month, my Democratic colleagues and I introduced an air quality package of bills to strengthen the permitting process for emissions while promoting transparency and accountability between businesses and the communities in which they operate. Now we’re joining with our brothers and sisters in labor, and allies in the fight for environmental justice, to call on businesses to take the dual concerns of the physical AND economic health of everyday Michigan residents seriously. We understand that to achieve comprehensive, sustainable success, we need to focus on legislative options that recognize that both population and economic health are on the line, and that they’re inextricable. Businesses that rely on Michigan labor — and receive Michigan tax dollars — need to put the health and safety of the people of our state first, because their success depends on it. A sick workforce is an absent one, and mismanaged tax credits can easily disappear.

It is possible to have real discussions about achieving success for Michigan businesses, their hardworking employees and our communities, but we must all be committed to doing our part. Unfortunately, many of these businesses have demonstrated that we cannot trust them to come to the table on their own, despite the enormous tax credits they continue to rake in while polluting our air and moving jobs out of state at the drop of a hat. If Michigan is going to sustain these companies, then they have an obligation to return that favor and invest their growth back into our state’s greatest resource: our people.

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Richard Scott
Thu, 09/19/2019 - 8:20pm

Good meaningful article healthy air to breathe in half of population. Let’s not quit, or remove laws establishing clean air. Let’s recognize small amounts of mercury in air over lakes work their way up from small creatures to predator fish and then to man.

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 11:45am

Hey Hammoud, government could make a killing by putting emissions meters on homeowners chimneys. Charge anyone who occupies any home/apartment for the air pollution they produce.

Thu, 09/19/2019 - 3:58pm

Good article. Author sites a current 2018 report from American Lung Association showing Detroit Metro area in the WORST 50 of some 200 metro areas reported on. It doesn't take a Rhodes Scholar to know that is a pretty bad place to be. Time to clean up the air, folks.

Alex Sagady
Mon, 09/23/2019 - 1:41pm

The ALA report you refer to is both dated information (dealing with 2014-2016 data)
and fails to address the matter of actual compliance with National Ambient Air Quality
Standards (NAAQS) by handing out failing air quality grades to areas that are actually in compliance
or by assuming that whole metropolitan areas are described by their worst performing
air quality monitoring site.

We have governmental air quality agencies that actually do this monitoring and
report on the results. There isn't any reason why you and Rep. Hammoud should not
rely on these government reports to determine what actual air quality is.

Here is the most recent annual report for 2018 from MDEGLE Air Quality Division:

Currently in Michigan we're having the cleanest year ever in nearly 5 decades of ozone
monitoring with only a single air monitoring site in Holland, MI showing a 4th highest ozone
concentration (used for determining compliance with NAAQS) over that standard:

Richard Scott
Thu, 09/19/2019 - 8:16pm

Industry must feel and be responsible for environmental damage from putting toxins in air, burying them in land, and disposing of them or letting them leak into water.

William Hammond
Fri, 09/20/2019 - 4:33am

Great ideas but it will die on the vine because the Democratic Caucus are cowards!! How dare you not back up the Governor and go behind closed doors to negotiate a budget without her!! We didn’t vote in Dems to get a Republican-lite Caucus!! I don’t believe you when you say you support clean air. You’re using it to look good to your constituent base!!

Sun, 09/22/2019 - 1:16am

Business’s already pay the state for a “license” to operate within the state to monitor both air and water pollutants they create. Those tax dollars helped create the Dept of Environmental Quality which was once a division of the DNR. So the representative from Dearborn should use the bureaucracy that is already in place to fix a problem the government has already identified and created a tax to fix it with!

Sun, 09/22/2019 - 3:24pm

Keep up the good fight!

Alex Sagady
Sun, 09/22/2019 - 7:32pm

>>>>Southeast Michigan has one of the worst air quality ratings in the nation,

This is an attempt to politically "weaponize" claims about air pollution in Michigan
without actually having the data to support such statements.

Here are snapshots from year 2017 from U.S. EPA for ozone and PM 2.5:
The 2017 snapshots on the number of days for 2017 when the air quality index is in the 'unhealthy for sensitive groups' for either ozone or PM2.5 is among the lowest of all major metropolitan areas in the United States.

Here is data on the 3 year design values for ozone for the State of Michigan for 2016-2018:
The sites in yellow show design values marginally over the 70 ppb ozone National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS). In 2019, absolutely none of the sites in Southeastern Michigan show any excursions over the 70 ppb NAAQS for the 4th highest values which are the basis of compliance....the cleanest year in nearly 5 decades of ozone monitoring in the State of Michigan:

Air quality monitoring data shows that the entire state of Michigan complies
with the NAAQS for PM2.5, including Southeastern Michigan:

None of Rep. Hammoud's statements about air pollution are informed by actual air quality monitoring data and information from MDEGLE Air Quality Division.

Note that everything you've heard about Detroit zip 48217 being "most polluted" or "most toxic" are all hoax-level claims with absolutely no basis in air quality or toxicology science.

>>>>>Southeast Michigan has ........ some of the highest asthma rates to match, because for decades, corporations have polluted our air and compromised the health of our community members, while receiving generous tax credits from the state.

While it is true that the City of Detroit has a problem with elevated rates of asthma, it is NOT true that this problem is wholly or even minimally attributable to air pollution, since the vast majority of the time air in Detroit meets all health-related National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

Asthma is a multi-phasic, multi-triggered respiratory disease and its causes are not completely understood but nevertheless involve the phenomena of inflammation of airways and episodic broncho-constriction of such airways. Asthma "triggers" -- exacerbating phenomena -- are well known and are numerous and most do not have anything to do with outdoor air pollution:

It is public health and medical malpractice to tell asthma patients that their problems are all attributable to a few days per year when outdoor air pollution may exceed the level of a NAAQS.

MDHHS has published quantitative data on asthma in Detroit:
This data shows that the worst zip codes for hospitalization for acute asthma are distant in NE, N and West Detroit from the most industrialized location in SW Detroit and where the highest PM2.5 air pollution is recorded, Detroit zip 48209.

For asthma patients the biggest problem is access to quality health care to ensure that their asthma is maintained under good long term control, rather than just managing broncho-constriction incidents with rescue inhalers. Ensuring good public clinic access to pulmonary physicians and allergists who are competent to treat asthma is the single most important thing to do in addressing the Detroit epicenter for asthma occurrence.

>>>>>Last month, my Democratic colleagues and I introduced an air quality package of bills to strengthen the permitting process for emissions while promoting transparency and accountability between businesses and the communities in which they operate.

Based on my reading of these bills, none of them will have any beneficial effects on
air quality in Southeastern Michigan and it appears that none of them were written with any input at all from MDEGLE Air Quality Division staff. This means that none of the bills actually respond to actual and real problems and deficiencies in Michigan's air quality program. Some of the bills are patently offensive, telling MDEGLE meteorologists and toxicologists how to do their job and how to conduct their science in a Trump-like fashion.
All of the bills will be strenuously opposed by industry, and many of their objections to what was introduced will be entirely reasonable objections. Some of the bills are bad public health policy that require Michigan to depart from nationally uniform practices as to public warnings about air pollution in light of National Ambient Air Quality Standards.

If the Representative was actually engaged in real problems with Michigan's air quality program, then here are the things needing action:

1. No annual emission inventory reports presently required for hazardous air pollutants, toxic air contaminants, total reduced sulfur compounds and hydrogen sulfide.

2. Sources are not required to separately report annual emissions from excess emission incidents, malfunctions, planned and unplanned maintenance events, upsets, etc.

3. Rule 912 allows emission sources up to 1 hour of excess emissions for HAPs and up to 2 hours excess emissions for other pollutants without a requirement for a report to MDEGLE Air Quality Division.

4. Toxic air quality evaluation procedures for determining community impacts do not require inclusion of existing sources at industrial sites -- only new/modified sources during permit evaluation procedures.

5. Insufficient stack testing, continuous emission monitoring and continuous parameter monitoring requirements in permits.

Alex Sagady
Wed, 09/25/2019 - 11:58pm

As to the problem of asthma morbidity in Detroit black children and adults, a new article and video in the New England Journal of Medicine explains that changes in medications for both children and adults with chronically poorly controlled asthma are necessary to get these health problems under control.....which means that access to health care and competent physicians to treat asthma are the key to the Detroit epicenter of asthma --- not the matter of air pollution: