Michiganders find solidarity in fighting hazardous waste


State Rep. Isaac Robinson (center) locks arms with state Rep. Jewell Jones (left) and Imam Salah Algahim (right) as they march from a nearby school to protest US Ecology on Detroit's east side. - STATE REP. ISAAC ROBINSON
  • State Rep. Isaac Robinson
  • State Rep. Isaac Robinson (center) locks arms with state Rep. Jewell Jones (left) and Imam Salah Algahim (right) as they march from a nearby school to protest US Ecology on Detroit's east side.

Despite losing their battle against the expansion of a toxic waste facility in Detroit, opponents of the project say they will persist. Community members and elected leaders from Detroit and Hamtramck fought for several years to prevent US Ecology from increasing the amount of hazardous waste stored at its Detroit North facility by nearly nine times its current level.

State regulators recently approved the permit. But Diane Weckerle, board member with Michigan Citizens for Water Conservation, said there is a silver lining. She said the community's strength and solidarity against pollution and environmental injustice have been clear.

"Arabic immigrants, Bengali immigrants, Afro-Americans, environmentalists — a very diverse community poured out into public meetings and marches on the plant," Weckerle said. "It was very exciting, the coming together of the community against more toxins coming in."

Weckerle said 45 trucks a day will now be allowed to transport mercury, arsenic, cyanide, and many other hazardous chemicals to and from the plant. She contends that puts the health of roughly 10,000 people who live nearby at risk.

"The health stats are really bad," she said. "The length of time someone can live on the east side of Detroit is 62 years; the length of life of somebody in the northern part of Grand Rapids is almost 90. There's huge discrepancies in the health of the communities in Michigan, and it's really unfair."

Weckerle said there were hopes the new administration in Lansing would step up to protect community health. But she notes that — much like in Flint — the efforts of local elected leaders were largely ignored.

"There's so many issues that keep coming up all around Michigan," she said. "And so, we need to link arms and continue to fight against pollution, and continue to fight against turning the Great Lakes into a toxic waste dump."

Weckerle added opponents were able to help stop radioactive waste from being processed or stored at the facility. The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy said it had no reason to deny the permit. But the Detroit Free Press found US Ecology has received more than 150 citations for violating Environmental Protection Agency rules and the Great Lakes Water Authority permit.

Stay on top of Detroit news and views. Sign up for our weekly issue newsletter delivered each Wednesday.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Detroit Metro Times Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Metro Times Press Club for as little as $5 a month.