DETROIT (WXYZ) — Residents in a Detroit neighborhood are depending on a federal investigation by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to what they say is an ongoing, environmental problem.
Their complaint is against the State of Michigan's Environmental, Great Lakes, and Environment agency (EGLE). Those concerns involve the automaker Stellantis.
People who live around the Stellantis assembly plant on Mack Avenue said the state failed to protect their quality of life, and many residents are requesting to be relocated.
“We live here. Something needs to happen now," resident and activist Robert Shobe told 7 Action News.
“From the noise to the air pollution," resident Tanisha Burton explained.
Since an expansion in 2020 granted by EGLE, residents said Beniteau Street hasn’t been the same. Burton, Shobe and a group of other residents told 7 Action News they've inhaled fumes and chemical odors from the plant.
Andrew Bashi, staff attorney at the Great Lakes Environmental Law Center, said the law center first took notice when the air quality permits were requested by then Fiat-Chrysler.
“You have a giant company that is seeking to expand or was seeking to expand their facility in a community that is almost entirely Black and has already been impacted by decades of pollution," the attorney explained to 7 Action News.
Bashi said despite expressing those concerns to EGLE on three occasions, EGLE still granted permits. Residents said their concerns have become a crisis.
Following residential complaints, EGLE has issued several violations against Stellantis including one for improper ducting, which affects what's released into the environment.
Then there are multiple odor violations.
The company said it submitted a mitigation plan to EGLE in January. More recently, EGLE said it issued an odor violation against Stellantis on March 24.
The automaker told 7 Action News, "Stellantis continues to address concerns about our Mack assembly plant with urgency. We are implementing the corrective actions submitted to EGLE on Jan. 7 and will continue to work with the agency to resolve this issue in a timely manner. A timeline for completion of these activities will depend, in part, on the outcome of discussions with EGLE regarding permitting requirements and deadlines imposed through the enforcement process."
EGLE said at this point, no fines have been issued.
“This complex is having a disproportionate negative impact on a community of color that has already been burdened by decades of racist policies," Bashi said.
Shobe said, “No safety or no fail-safe (has been made) for us throughout this process. From the demolitions there and the rebuild and bringing in all the dust and dirt and all these trucks, we’ve been breathing this stuff. It’s been in our homes, our cars, it’s in our lungs. We got people around here sick. That’s the beginning.”
Burton said, “It’s a lot when you have grandkids that wanna come over. You can’t have them outside playing.”
The law center filed a civil rights complaint with the EPA against EGLE. In the complaint, EGLE is accused of a pattern of discrimination when granting air permits in communities of color and failing to get meaningful public input before granting permits.
Bashi said, “What we want is to see a full audit.”
The EPA confirms it is investigating EGLE as a result of that civil rights complaint.
EGLE told 7 Action News, “Michigan EGLE looks forward to EPA’s review of Michigan permitting decisions and processes to ensure that the state is doing everything within its authority to protect vulnerable communities, and to receive guidance from EPA in doing so most effectively.”
The agency also stated, “State regulators have escalated enforcement against Stellantis for violations related to odors and for not installing equipment properly."
Stellantis sent 7 Action News data from air quality studies and said, "The data demonstrates that the air around the community is safe."
When it comes to residents' relocation requests, the company told 7 Action News "because complaints have been filed which include demands, we can't comment on that issue."