Friday, March 21, 2008

Metro Detroit Danger Zone

When news broke that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Great Lakes report was delayed, it was news in and of itself. The CDC claimed that there was faulty science in the report which prompted the delay.

The report lists various “area’s of concern” and rates the sites on a scale of one to five, with one being an “Urgent Public Health Hazard,” a three being an “Indeterminate Public Health Hazard,” and a five being a site that has no threat of exposure to the public.

But what did it say? What did the report say about the health of Great Lakes residents? More specifically, what did they have to say about Metro Detroit?

Rouge River

The Rouge River was the first metro Detroit main area of concern in the report. The report shows that Wayne County has a very disproportionate amount of pollution in comparison with neighboring Oakland County:

“Onsite Toxic Report Inventory releases in Wayne and Oakland Counties (combined) totaled 24,621,119 pounds in 2001, primarily to air and land. Wayne County accounted for 89% and Oakland County accounted for 11% of the total onsite releases.”

One of the things that is echoed throughout the report is the acknowledgement and observance of citizens having ill health effects, but there was no clear link established between the adverse health effects and the areas of concern.

The report identifies the vulnerable populations for Wayne County and Oakland County. The people included as vulnerable were children six years and younger, females aged 15-44, and adults 65 and older.

In the words of the report:

“Wayne County (vulnerable populations 923,411) had an unusually large number of health status indicators that compared unfavorably with those of the U.S. and with the median of the peer counties, including infant mortality indicators, birth measures and death measures. Some of the indicators in each of these three categories also were elevated above the upper limit of the peer county range.”

“In contrast, Oakland County (vulnerable populations 510,496) had only two health status indicators that compared unfavorably with those of the U.S. and also with the median of the peer counties: these were black infant mortality and deaths from stroke.”

Consider the Allen Park Clay Mine, this site was classified as an Indeterminate Public Health Hazard, which means they don’t know if it is a threat to people. But what they do know is that ongoing cancer studies in the surrounding communities of Snow Woods, Melvindale, and Allen Park, have revealed high incidences of brain cancer. Still though, there is no smoking gun or clear link since little is known about brain cancer.

A possible “flaw” in the science which (the CDC originally claimed was the reason for delaying release of the report) is the community study of Detroit neighborhoods near the Carter industrial site which is listed as a Public Health Hazard. They found PCBs in storm sewers that drain into the Detroit River and they found PCBs in the gutters of nearby homes. But, the study was done before the removal of PCB soil from the site and the covering of mounds of soil. So while we know that it was a threat, is it still a threat?

Most of the report for the Metro Detroit area is ambiguous, with seven of the nineteen sites being listed as an Indeterminate Public Health Hazard.

Seven of the sites were listed as Public Health Hazards Category 2 including the Carter Industrial, Gratiot Trailer Park, Joy Road Dump, Master Metals Inc. #2, Packard Plant, Wholesale Russell, and Old World Trade Center.(More information on hazardous sites can be found here.)

The Clinton River

The Clinton River watershed goes on into Oakland County from Macomb and in turn feeds and affects the Rouge River. This marks the next metro Detroit section of the report.

The Clinton River affects far more people in Macomb County than in Oakland County. The vulnerable population in Oakland County was only 17,616 people while Macomb County had 348,417 people at risk. Again these are Children 6 years and younger, females 15-44, and adults over 65.

None of the Oakland County sites were listed as Public Health Hazards (Category 2) with only one site being listed as a public Health Hazard in Macomb County.

Six of the nine Oakland and Macomb sites were listed as Indeterminate Public Health Hazards. What is not included in the report are all of the landfills on the border of Oakland and Macomb Counties. It mentions Liquid Disposal, the G & H Landfill, and the J & L Landfill which are all within two miles of each other, but it says nothing about the other six landfills in the immediate area. Though the landfills may be “safe” and within Federal standards, there is no look at the bigger picture here. Also while it may be a “safe” place to live there is also no mention of the house that blew up in 2000 from methane migrations from one of the landfills in the proximity (it has not been proved exactly which landfill it came from.)

The Rose Township Dump in Oakland County was listed as an Indeterminate Public Health Hazard. Though some groundwater pollutants were escaping the report says: “residential wells were not yet affected. There is the potential, however, for residential wells to be affected in the future.” The report does cite this incident as one of the “Issues for Follow-Up.”

Another one of the “Issues for Follow-Up” is the South Macomb Disposal Authority (SMDA) moving up from an Indeterminate Public Health Hazard to a Public Health Hazard when it was found that not all of the pollutants were being contained. The report stated that there “was concern for future contamination of residential wells. Additional remedial action is underway.”

The SMDA has long been a plague for residents that lived near it. The majority of nearby residents got out of court settlements. The most recent (and second highest) out of court settlement totaled $950,000 and was awarded to Calvin Wieslawa after 23 years of litigation.

The report acknowledged the local “death survey” put on by local residents but said: “The data was considered insufficient due to the lack of information on the geographic boundaries of the survey, types of cancers, and important risk factors. The survey which did not provide any clear connections between reported adverse health effects (hepatitis and skin rash in one person and cirrhosis in another) and possible exposure to landfill contamination.”

The report identified that currently 867 residents are vulnerable to pollution within the area of SMDA.

By Jason Tafilowski

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