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Dearborn steel mill wants state to loosen emission limits, neighbors worry


A Dearborn steel plant wants the state to let it legally emit more air pollution, a prospect that doesn’t sit well with many of the people who live nearby.

The massive,350-acre Severstal steel complexsits in a heavily industrial area along the Dearborn-Detroit border. It’s been cited 37 times for violating its current state air quality permit.

But Severstal thinks that permit was too strict. In its new permit application, the company wants the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to raise the emissions cap for a number of pollutants, including lead and carbon monoxide.

That angers many south Dearborn residents, like Norieah Ahmed. Speaking at a packed public hearing on the proposed new rules this week, Ahmed said her community already suffers from too much pollution.

“We cannot allow for an increase in permitted levels simply because Severstal once again can’t meet those standards,” Ahmed said.

“We’re not asking for them to be shut down. We are just asking that they do whatever it takes to help the community and them co-exist, but without compromising the health of the residents, young and old.”

Other residents echoed Ahmed’s concerns about the cumulative health impacts on a community that's literally sick of pollution.

Deborah Graham begged MDEQ officials to deny the new permit. “I am tired of being sick,” said Graham, whose family was affected by a2005 fire at a hazardous waste facility in nearby Romulus. “Our bodies, our systems, cannot handle any more.”

But state officials point out that the Severstal plant, which produces millions of tons of steel each year, won’t actually increase its emissions.

MDEQ spokesman Brad Wurfel says the current permit might have set unrealistic standards for such an “enormous facility.”

“There’s really not much point in having standards if the day-to-day operations can’t reliably meet those standards,” said Wurfel, adding that the plant has never exceeded overriding state and federal air quality standards.

Wurfel says the state is taking legal actions against Severstal for violating its current permit. “They (violations) will be addressed over time,” he said “We don’t leave these things outstanding. But we’re focused today on the permit which addresses tomorrow."

The MDEQ has extended the public comment period on the proposed new permit until the end of the month. Officials say the agency should make a final permitting decision sometime this spring.

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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