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Marathon refinery in Detroit wants to increase emissions

February 1, 2016 by Dave Battagello

A controversy over Marathon Petroleum’s bid to increase the pollutants it releases into the air at its southwest Detroit refinery reaches across the border to nearby Windsor and LaSalle.

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality is close to granting the company a permit to up the amount of sulphur dioxide and other pollutants coming from its plant.

Marathon wants to release an additional 22 tons of sulphur dioxide into the air annually. That’s roughly 40 per cent more than the 58 tons the refinery currently releases. It has also asked to increase emissions of several other pollutants.

The oil company’s proposal involves reducing the sulphur dioxide in gasoline it produces at the refinery, but the process would increase harmful emissions into the air.

Both LaSalle and Windsor sit downwind from Marathon and would be impacted by the increased emissions of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and small particulates, which are all contributors to smog and air pollution.

The Windsor Essex County Environment Committee is recommending city and county councils ask federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to intervene. City council will likely consider the recommendation Feb. 22.

The Marathon refinery is cited in the U.S.-Canada air quality agreement as a significant polluter, said committee member Derek Coronado, also co-ordinator for the Citizens Environment Alliance. “Yet, they are in the process of seeking to increase their pollution. This is more of the same thing coming from that facility — which is less than two miles from our border.”

Marathon sits next to I-75 freeway just west of Zug Island. Beyond neighbourhoods near it in Detroit, the first populated areas its emissions drift over are West Windsor and LaSalle.

“But this will travel a long way — not just this area,” Coronado said.

At a public hearing last week, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan threatened to file a federal lawsuit against the state agency if it approves Marathon’s request.

“This is not a permit that should be approved,” said Duggan at the municipal hearing. “I don’t want there to be any question of our commitment. If the permit is approved, I promise you we will be in federal court.

“You cannot raise the pollution levels on poor areas that are already so polluted to benefit everybody else. I believe that’s a civil rights violation.”

Wayne County is the only county in Michigan that exceeds state’s acceptable levels for sulphur dioxide, Duggan pointed out. The lung cancer rate is 25 per cent higher than the state average and the asthma rate is 50 per cent higher.

Rashida Tlaib, a community leader in southwest Detroit and former state representative, has been outspoken on the issue.

She pointed out that one in five children in her neighbourhoods have asthma and the zip code where Marathon is located is already the most polluted in all of Michigan.

The thought of Marathon releasing more pollutants is “mind-boggling,” she said.

“People here are suffering,” Tlaib said. “For our Windsor neighbours there is no wall preventing this air from crossing over the river. This is a massive refinery that just continues to expand. People are getting sick. These expansions need to stop.”

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