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Key findings in Bridge Michigan auto project

A locked gate at the old Buick City complex in Flint. Flint is among more than a dozen communities in Michigan contending with the hazards of vacant former auto factories, with more closures likely as automakers swap engine plants for EV battery factories. (Bridge photo by David Ruck)

As automakers tap into generous public subsidies to build electric vehicle plants in Michigan, communities across the state continue to suffer from the industry’s polluted past. 

Bridge Michigan set out to quantify the toll unaddressed factory contamination has exacted on Michigan, and what the state can do to avoid repeating history as automakers and suppliers race toward an EV future. 

We found:

  • As automakers and suppliers build new EV factories on rural farmland, they are leaving old, contaminated plants behind with uncertain futures and hidden perils, failing community after community. 
  • Taxpayers have subsidized at least $259 million in cleanups at more than 100 Michigan sites linked to the industry. The true toll is far higher, but impossible to calculate because of gaps in government data on contaminated sites.
  • Record-breaking state incentives for Michigan’s new EV factories come with few environmental requirements attached, prompting fears that in the race for jobs the state will again not hold industry accountable for contaminants left behind.  
  • Laws limiting industry liability for contamination routinely stick taxpayers and local communities with cleanup. But the state doesn’t invest the funding to keep up, leading to an ever-growing list of dirty sites. 
  • Michigan has fewer people working on contaminated site cleanup today than three decades ago, when the number of known contaminated sites was nine times smaller.
  • When companies discover pollution on their property, Michigan law generally does not require them to tell state regulators what they found or how it is being addressed. As a result, communities often don’t learn of environmental peril until a factory closes and the company leaves town.  
  • Bankruptcies have allowed automakers and suppliers to skip out on hundreds of millions in environmental liabilities. State law can’t prevent such maneuvers, but experts say Michigan could require up-front financial assurances from polluting industries to better protect communities and taxpayers. 
  • This fall, lawmakers say they are pursuing changes to state business incentives and contamination cleanup laws, with an eye toward holding industry more accountable.

The latest on pollution in Michigan:

Read our full coverage of the automotive industry’s contaminated legacy here. In the coming months, we’ll continue pursuing stories on unaddressed environmental harms of Michigan’s industrial past. 

Have a tip or story suggestion? Reach out to environment reporter Kelly House at or business editor Paula Gardner at

Join us for live discussion Thursday on Michigan’s industrial legacy

On Thursday, Sept. 28 at 12 noon, Bridge Michigan business editor Paula Gardner and environment reporter Kelly House will discuss their industrial legacy reporting project. Senior editor David Zeman will moderate this interactive discussion. Bring your questions!

Register for this free live event 

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