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DEQ once again failing to put public health first, advocates warn

Oct 26, 2015
Changes to state regulation of toxic air emissions proposed today by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality would raise the risk of serious health impacts among Michigan families, particularly in vulnerable communities, public health advocates caution.

The department today announced it is moving forward with a proposed administrative rule change requested by industry to deregulate 500 toxic chemicals which have been subject to oversight in the past.

In the frequently asked questions document that accompanies the rules, the document claims that permit applicants "would be required to show that the listed toxic air contaminants will not threaten public health." However, the rule change will remove exactly that requirement.

Until now, Michigan has been among a number of states -- including Minnesota, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, Oklahoma and Texas -- that regulate all toxic chemicals emitted from industrial facilities. Michigan now regulates about 1,200 air chemicals, including some that are presumed toxic because their human health impacts are unknown.

Under the proposed rule change, the state would stop regulating toxic chemicals that have not been tested for their impact on public health. Michigan's current regulations protect public health by assuming any chemical whose health effects are unknown is very toxic, unless the emitting facility opts to conduct health testing to determine its toxicity.

"Under this proposal, state regulators will no longer be able to tell residents living next to a factory that they have evaluated the application and it is safe to breathe the air," said James Clift, policy director for the Michigan Environmental Council (MEC). "Instead, this proposal saddles Michigan families with the impossible burden of trying to evaluate the danger posed by chemicals that have never been tested for their impact on public health."  

The proposed rules also would eliminate regulation of less toxic non-carcinogenic chemicals, regardless of the quantity emitted. The proposal arbitrarily draws a regulatory line based on toxicity and would deregulate the 25 percent of chemicals that are least toxic.

"We know that a given chemical's human health impacts are the result of not only how toxic it is, but also how much of the chemical people are exposed to," said Wibke Heymach, national energy policy coordinator for the Moms Clean Air Force. "By taking quantity out of the equation, the department is turning its back on sound science and public health. Simply put, the proposed rule changes treat Michigan families like guinea pigs."

The cuts to the air toxics program would be especially harmful to low-income families and communities of color, which already suffer more than other Michiganders from the health impacts of industrial pollution.

Despite the large number of industrial facilities and the large population of vulnerable residents in and around Detroit, the state's plan for gathering public input on the rule changes does not include any meetings in Wayne County.

"Detroiters stand directly in harm's way from the effects of these rule changes, and we deserve a fair hearing where we can put our concerns on the record," said Sandra Turner-Handy, MEC's Detroit-based director of community engagement. "If the department thinks reducing the regulation of toxic chemicals in the air we breathe is a good idea, they should come here and tell us why."

The department will accept public comments on the proposed rule changes until December 18, 2015. More information on how to submit comments is available here.

For More Information
Read our backgrounder on the proposed administrative rule change:
Will Deregulating Michigan’s Toxic Air Emissions Put Residents at Risk? 

Download report here (note: 2.5 MB PDF):
Andy McGlashen: (517) 420-1908
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