Dingell on hazardous waste storage: ‘We’re worried about living near these sites’

By: - May 5, 2023 9:39 am

U.S. EPA drone photo of East Palestine train derailment burning.

Three federal lawmakers held a public meeting Thursday in Belleville designed to address transportation and storage of hazardous waste in Southeast Michigan. 

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor) at the University of Michigan Oct. 3, 2022 | Ken Coleman

The forum with U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell (D-Ann Arbor), Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) and Shri Thanedar (D-Detroit) was held after public concern surrounding the transport in February of hazardous waste from an East Palestine, Ohio, train derailment to sites in Michigan. Republic Industrial and Energy Services (RIES) of Romulus accepted the waste. In addition to the wastewater, 15 truckloads of excavated soil from the derailment site went to the US Ecology Wayne Disposal facility in Belleville, about 30 miles west of Detroit.

“We’re worried about living near these sites,” said Dingell during the forum held at Wayne County Community College. “[Are] they safe?”  

Wayne County Executive Warren Evans and state Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Trenton) also attended the meeting. Evans called for a constructive effort to address the issue. 

“We all are entitled to clean air,” said Evans about the 43 communities that make up Wayne County, the state’s most populous county.  

“Is there additional regulation to assist with a problem like this,?” asked Jarvis Byrd, a Wyandotte resident. “Is the regulation sufficient? How is it that toxic waste can be moved without notifying the communities?”

Debra Shore, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator, noted federal law does not require notification of communities affected. She, however, said the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) has to be notified.  

Shore was joined on the panel by EGLE Acting Director Aaron Keatley; Herbert Smith, Norfolk Southern regional vice president of government relations; and RIES Russ Knocke vice president, public and government affairs. 

Public comment reopened on Romulus facility that accepted waste from Ohio train derailment 

In March, Dingell, Tlaib and Thanedar urged EGLE to re-open the window for public feedback for the renewal of the operating license for RIES’ hazardous waste site in Romulus. The public comment period for the site was reopened during April.  

EGLE has also opened a public comment period related to a pending application to renew the operating license and expand operations at Wayne Disposal, Inc. 

“We have a right to raise our families in safe environments, a right to clean water and air,” said Thanedar. 

Tlaib has criticized industrial polluters for more than a decade as a state House member as well as a congresswoman. She urged attendees to call government officials to report environmental issues at Michigan Department of Environmental Quality’s 24-hour Pollution Emergency Alert System (PEAS) at 1-800-292-4706.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.