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Environmental groups plan to sue EPA over sulfur dioxide pollution in Detroit

Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Three environmental groups have notified the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency they plan to sue because the agency has not come up with a plan to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions in areas of Detroit and Baltimore.

The Center for Biological Diversity, the Center for Environmental Health, and the Sierra club filed a notice this week.

“In the case of Detroit, the EPA already disapproved the state’s plan because it wasn’t going to sufficiently clean up the area. And, so, now it’s on EPA to issue a plan,” said Elena Saxonhouse, an attorney with the Sierra Club. She says the EPA should have done something many years ago.

Sulfur dioxide contributes to heart and lung diseases, especially among children and the elderly. The groups say EPA's illegal delay in cleaning up the air pollutant endangers the health of thousands of people.

The EPA website indicates the largest source of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuel by power plants and other industrial facilities, but also comes from locomotives, ships, and other engines that burn high sulfur diesel.   

In Southwest Detroit there are several industries which currently emit sulfur dioxide or did when they’re operating. A steel mill is idle right now. A coal-burning power plant is scheduled to be closed.    

“This part of Wayne County is an area that’s just absolutely pummeled with multiple pollutants from all kinds of facilities. It’s an environmental justice hotspot. So, it’s really urgent that they implement this plan with speed,” Saxonhouse said.

If the EPA does not respond in 60 days, the environmental groups will file the suit, asking the court to set a deadline to devise a plan to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.

Lester Graham reports for The Environment Report. He has reported on public policy, politics, and issues regarding race and gender inequity. He was previously with The Environment Report at Michigan Public from 1998-2010.
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