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Wayne County calls on MDEQ to mitigate hazardous waste pollution

Paulette Parker / Michigan Radio

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans is urging the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality to reject permit requests that would allow Marathon Oil and US Ecology to increase emissions and  hazardous waste.

The Marathon Petroleum Refinery in Detroit has been embroiled in controversy over its request to increase sulfur dioxide emissions.

"Our request there is: Before you even contemplate an increase in the permitting, that you show us that you're making some concrete steps in controlling the pollution that's already there," Evans said.

Now, US Ecology wants to expand its radioactive fracking waste business "ten-fold" in its Van Buren Township landfill.

One of the concerns with this expansion is an increased amount of TENORM, or technologically-enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material.

Fracking is the process of the high-pressure injection of water, chemicals, and sand into sedimentary rock to release gas and oil. This process creates "low-level waste" that still has radioactivity levels higher than those that naturally occur.

Gov. Rick Snyder's administration commissioned a 2014 report on the subject. The report found that the low-level radioactive material is not harmful, but made six recommendations to incorporate into state law; none of which have been done, says Evans.

"Until you show us that you're prepared to do something with the waste that is hazardous to people's lives, we in Wayne County are not going to be supportive of the permits that allow that to happen," Evans said.

Much of the waste will come from out-of-state fracking operations, according to Evans.

"We are concerned that this proposed expansion will make Wayne County a sought-after dumping ground for this material by other states," he said.

Evans says his stance is not only influenced by concerns of citizens of Wayne County, but also by advice from experts in the county's health and environmental departments.

"We're talking about communities that are already overburdened, that are already suffering from high levels of pollution, that are already suffering from the effects of the environment around them, and we are burdening them further with this," said the director of the Wayne County Department of Health, Dr. Mouhanad Hammami.

Evans says the health and safety of the residents is his priority.

"While we're pro-business and we really want businesses to grow, we really have to look long and hard at those businesses who have a by-product that hurts the health and welfare of the citizens of Wayne County," he said.

Paulette is a digital media reporter and producer for Michigan Public. She started as a newsroom intern at the station in 2014 and has taken on various roles in that time, including filling in as an on-air host.
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