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Records: Detroit Incinerator Often Exceeds Pollution Limits

Detroit skyline
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State records show a Detroit solid-waste incinerator has exceeded pollution emission rules more than 750 times over the last five years.

A Detroit Free Press analysis of state reports found nearly 200 instances since 2015 where Detroit Renewable Power was exceeding pollution limits with a variety of harmful chemicals.

Records show more than 50 instances since 2015 where Detroit Renewable Power didn't meet standards after the Department of Environmental Quality investigated complaints of odors or performed independent odor reviews.

Trash burned at the facility creates electricity and steam used by buildings in downtown Detroit.

Pollutants that are under scrutiny at the incinerator are carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter or fine dust and nitrogen oxides. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says they have the potential to harm human health and damage the environment.

But the state agency didn't label most of the incinerator's incidents as violations. Many were dismissed because the pollution event was a minimal percentage of the incinerator's overall emissions.

A consent order last year cited the incinerator for only eight pollution incidents from 2015 and 2016, the Free Press reported. The penalty was $149,000.

"That's really the tool we have to try to bring them into compliance," said Todd Zynda, the Department of Environmental Quality's incinerator inspector.

Zynda acknowledged that the regulatory process isn't reducing the incinerator's odor and pollution incidents.

"It's kind of mind-boggling — people are just blown away," said Kathryn Savoie, Detroit community health director for The Ecology Center in Ann Arbor.  "They violate the law. Then they get to sit and negotiate how much they should be fined."

Detroit Renewable Power officials said the company operates in compliance with federal, state and local permits. But it regrets nearly three dozen violation notices since 2015.

"We are working to be better and seeking opportunities to improve our practices to be a good neighbor in our community," the company said.

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