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Detroit Stellantis plant hit with more air quality violations, has three weeks to fix problem

A park adjacent to the Stellantis plant on Detroit's east side was part of a community benefits package.
Sarah Cwiek
Michigan Radio
A park adjacent to the Stellantis plant on Detroit's east side was part of a community benefits package.

Updated October 27, 2021 at 5:30 p.m.

Detroiters are calling for Stellantis to clean up the air around the company's east side Jeep plant.

For the second consecutive month, state environmental regulators have given notice to the automaker that they’re violating air quality standards.

Kenny Holloway lives on Beniteau Street right next to the plant. He says he doesn’t feel like city leadership is listening to his concerns.

“I've been at meetings that city council I've been at meetings with Duggan and all we do is get a banana in the tailpipe over here,” he said.

Last month - following complaints by residents - the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy issued a violation to Stellantis for a strong paint smell coming from the plant.

The most recent violation is for potentially hazardous volatile organic compounds from the plant’s exhaust.

Eden Kasmala is with the activist group Detroit People’s Party.

“When this plant was presented to residents in the community benefits process, it was presented to us as the greenest and it would be one of the greenest plants in North America," Kasmala said. "Right and the emissions were going to be low. And I'll be frank, they made me feel like I was crazy for being concerned about what was happening in our backyard.”

Stellantis now has three weeks to fix the problem.

Original post, October 18, 2021 at 1:25 p.m.

A new auto assembly plant on Detroit’s east side already has some neighbors unhappy.

The Stellantis (formerly Fiat-Chrysler) Mack Assembly plant launched production in March of this year, making next-generation Jeep Grand Cherokees. It was the first new auto assembly plant to go up in the city of Detroit since the 1980s, and had major backingfrom Mayor Mike Duggan’s administration.

But since production launched, some nearby residents on Detroit’s east side have complained of strong, caustic paint odors. Some say it’s affected their quality of life.

Robert Shobe has lived on Beniteau Street for 24 years, very close to the plant. He describes the smell as “more than an odor,” and said he rarely goes outside anymore. He said it’s caused him to have a burning sensation in his eyes and nose, nausea, and headaches.

“I have neighbors who’ve had many other issues. I have neighbors that actually left the community because of their breathing issues, they couldn’t breathe with this stuff going on,” Shobe said.

State environmental regulators from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) recently hit the plant with air quality violations. The violation notice states: “During the investigation performed on August 27, 2021, AQD staff observed persistent and objectionable paint/solvent odors of moderate intensity (Level 3) impacting residential areas downwind of the facility. During the investigations performed on August 31 and September 3, 2021, AQD staff observed persistent and objectionable paint/solvent odors of moderate to strong intensity (Level 3 and 4) impacting residential areas downwind of the facility.”

On October 11, Stellantis/FCA responded with a plan to mitigate the problem, as required. The company says it’s “taking a two-pronged approach: 1) acting quickly to eliminate potential sources of objectionable odor that can be identified and eliminated immediately, and 2) gathering odor-related information and performing a comprehensive odor investigation at the facility that includes, in addition to our own internal investigation, engaging an outside, third-party engineering firm to provide their expert review. The results of the investigation will be used to develop a plan to implement odor control measures, as appropriate.”

“We take these odor concerns very seriously, and we are working expeditiously to identify and manage potential sources. We also recognize the importance of hearing about these concerns from the community as they arise. Therefore, we will set up a dedicated line for local community members to report odor concerns directly to us.”

The company adds that it’s “committed to addressing any objectionable odors from the Mack facility operations. FCA’s monitoring program will continue as necessary to identify and control any sources of objectionable odors.” It said the investigation should be completed within 90 days.

Robert Shobe is skeptical of the plan. “So now you’re going to hire someone else that’s at your beck and call to make a determination as to what’s best to be done, and then they have 90 days to decide it,” he said. “So we just continue to breathe this mess?”

Shobe also questioned why the city of Detroit isn’t doing more to protect residents. “Why isn't the city out here making sure that the residents are safe from something that our tax dollars were involved in building?” he asked.

Shobe said he, other neighborhood residents, and some activist groups planned to deliver a petition regarding the air quality issues to Stellantis headquarters in Auburn Hills on Monday.

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
Russ McNamara is the host of All Things Considered for 101.9 WDET, presenting local news to the station’s loyal listeners.
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