Green Guide

Newspaper: New Detroit fertilizer plant polluting the air

Posted May 10

— A $143 million facility that converts human waste into fertilizer has exceeded its permitted emission levels of toxins, adding harmful pollutants to an area that already has the dirtiest air in metro Detroit.

The Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant, which converts human waste from the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant into marketable fertilizer, opened last year. It exceeded the one-hour emission standard for sulfur dioxide more than 2,500 times from April 2016 through February 2017, according to data reviewed by the Detroit Free Press ( ).

The emissions are particularly problematic in neighborhoods around the facility, which the federal Environmental Protection Agency already considers to be in "non-attainment" of the federal Clean Air Act's air-quality standard for sulfur dioxide.

Instead of the state Department of Environmental Quality forcing a shutdown until the emissions were fixed, a consent order between the agency and the facility's operator allows until Jan. 1, 2018 to resolve its permit noncompliance.

Elizabeth Milton, an advocate with Detroit Alliance for Asthma Awareness, said waiting for up to two years for the pollution problem to be resolved is too long.

"They are taking the risk with our lives, and that I cannot bear — especially in a community that is overburdened with toxic pollutants," she said. "The residents of this area cannot bear one more excessive polluter."

Suzanne Coffey, interim CEO for wastewater with Great Lakes Water Authority, said the emission exceedance is a "natural part" of getting "a large, new facility" up and running.

"We are not the only discharger of SO2 in the area. ... We're not feeling like this is a significant environmental impact," she said.

The EPA reports that short-term exposure to sulfur dioxide can harm the respiratory system and make breathing difficult.


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