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Environmental agencies: No health risks detected from Detroit Stellantis plant so far

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.

State and federal environmental agencies have detected elevated levels of certain chemicals around the Stellantis Mack Assembly plant on Detroit’s east side.

But those chemicals don’t appear to be at levels high enough to negatively impact human health, officials said at a presentation to community members Thursday night.

The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE), the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), and the U.S Environmental Protection Agency have all done air quality sampling around the automakers’ plant. It just began operating in March 2021, but has already received several violations from EGLE, including three for nuisance odors and one for improperly-installed emissions control ductwork.

Brandon Reid, an MDHHS toxicologist, said air sampling detected 20 chemical compounds around the Mack Assembly plant, eight of which Stellantis is known to use. That included relatively elevated levels of volatile organic compounds compared to other surrounding areas.

But, “All the detected chemicals were below their health risk comparison values,” Reid said. “This means that based on the data we have, the levels of chemicals were not high enough to cause an increased risk of health impacts.”

During similar sampling, EPA officials said that “Although a distinct odor was observed, EPA did not detect reportable concentrations of hydrogen sulfide, benzene, or xylene.”

But Reid and other officials caution that their data is limited, and only captures a snapshot in time. That brought out frustration from some community residents, who felt like the officials were calling the plant’s operations “safe” when they don’t have enough information to make that call yet.

“You are already saying that you don't have all the information, but you keep telling people they're safe, and then there's chemicals that you can't even you can't detect or you don't test for,” said resident Robert Shobe. “Why would you tell the people they're safe? That doesn't make common sense.”

“You don’t seem to be concerned about the health impacts,” added Eden Bloom. “You seem to be focusing on the smell, and not the fact that eyes are burning, that throats are sore, that lungs are sore.”

Health and environmental officials said they will continue to monitor the plant for possible violations and health impacts. They said Stellantis has developed a plan to neutralize the odors from its paint shop that has spurred a number of citizen complaints, but said there’s no deadline to implement that yet.

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.
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