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Neighbors, residents protest expansion of hazardous-waste plant

D. Weckerle

Some of the most toxic chemicals used in industry are treated and temporarily held at the US Ecology plant on the Hamtramck-Detroit border, and plans to expand it tenfold have raised fears for neighbors and environmentalists.

For nearly three decades, the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality has granted waivers for annual soil tests to US Ecology, prompting concerned citizens to conduct their own tests last month from the vicinity of the plant. Retired public health nurse Diane Weckerle, who co-chairs the Coalition to Oppose the Expansion of US Ecology, said those tests, which were done by a Grand Rapids-based firm, turned up levels of arsenic, diesel and copper well above the Michigan average, among many other metals found in the soil. She believes that poses a potential risk to all Michiganders.

"Yes, it is treated," she said. "The hazardous waste is treated, but eventually the liquid goes into the sewer system which goes into the Detroit River, which goes into the Great Lakes."

A spokesperson for US Ecology said the company has operated compliantly from that location for more than 40 years, and is subject to stringent monitoring protocols. The Idaho-based company has submitted its expansion application to the state, and currently is waiting for a response.

However, Weckerle said she believes this is another example of state regulators placing the interests of businesses and finances above the safety of its residents.

"There's hundreds of toxins into the air and into the soil," she said, "and nobody is looking at the synergistic effects of all these and the hazard this is for the residents and the community, and the risk that this poses to the water."

US Ecology won't comment on the validity of the independent soil tests, but has said it does not manage diesel product or copper, and has stressed that the area is zoned as an industrial corridor with truck traffic in and out serving other businesses as well. While the company does operate plants around the country, the Detroit facility appears to be the only one located in such a densely populated area.