Genesee Twp., MI— Community members fighting a proposed asphalt plant held a protest outside St. Francis Prayer Center Wednesday morning, calling the plant an act of environmental racism.
The facility, proposed by Ajax Materials Corp., would be a hot mix asphalt plant, which combines aggregates (crushed stone) and heated asphalt to make asphalt used to pave roads, driveways, and parking lots.
It would be located at 5088 Energy Drive, which is zoned for industrial use by Genesee Township and close to existing industry.
The location also borders St. Francis Prayer Center and sits across the street from City of Flint residential area.
“This is a minority neighborhood. It’s predominately African American. So, they’re really being discriminated against, because they’re going to be disproportionately exposed to all these all these toxins, pollutants, and smell. The smell from that plant is going to be atrocious,” Ted Zahrfeld said, chair of the prayer center.
Prior to beginning the project, Ajax must secure an air use permit from the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy that would allow the plant to emit contaminants by burning fuel during the process of making asphalt.
The plant may also create pollutants by storing and moving raw materials and finished products, and from fumes released by the asphalt mix materials.
Exposure to hazardous air pollutants has been known to cause severe irritation, chronic health effects, and cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Due to the proposed plant’s close proximity to Flint, EGLE sent a letter to Flint City Council asking for input as an interested party.
The Flint City Council objected to the permit and resolved to submit their objections, objections from the administration, and objections from the public to EGLE by Aug. 16.
“The Mayor and the City Councilmembers stands with the residents of Flint to Fulfill its pledge in accordance with the City of Flint Declaration of Rights to assure in pertinent part residents and businesses a clean and safe environment, with clean air and a sanitary city,” the resolution read.
Under the permit, Ajax would be required to install equipment and technology that would keep air pollution to a minimum. Ajax will also have an annual limit on how much asphalt they can produce.
According to a report by EGLE, it has been “preliminarily determined” that the facility’s impact does not violate National Ambient Air Quality Standards, meaning it does not exceed legal increments for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, particulate matter less than or equal to 10 microns in diameter, and particulate matter less than or equal to 2.5 microns in diameter.
“I’m asking Ajax to not do this,” Father Phil Schmitter said, pastor of Christ the King Catholic Parish. “I’m asking them to look at the cumulative impact. As we keep putting more and more facilities here, we wind up with more and more danger and pollution. And they never look at that issue. They just say, ‘well, it’s within the guidelines,’” he said.
A 2020 Heath Impact Assessment of a proposed expansion of asphalt plants in Pierce County, Wash. found that while no increased health impacts were been found in residents living near asphalt plants, those with pre-existing conditions, like heart and lung disease, respiratory infections, and diabetes are more at risk for negative health outcomes.
The assessment also found that socially vulnerable populations, which include low-income residents and minorities, are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution.
“There are people here. There are predominantly African American people, and many are low income. And so, this is absolutely unconscionable,” Schmitter said.
Another study performed by Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League found that the property value for homes near asphalt plants reported losses of up to 56%. Of those surveyed, 45% reported declining health conditions.
“We’ve already suffered through one environmental crisis, an ongoing water crisis, we are in a pandemic, and now this community is being asked to be exposed to these elements that will directly affect their ability to counter off further infections during the COVID-19,” Anthony Paciorek, environmental justice organizer for Michigan United said.
Residents have until Aug. 16 to submit their comments to EGLE, which will be used, in part, to approve or deny a permit for the plant.
An in-person public comment session will be held Aug. 11 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at Genesee Township Hall located at 7244 N Genesee Road.
Director for the St. Francis Prayer Center Debra Hawley urged residents to speak out.
“People have to be responsible enough to stand up and fight for the people who cannot do it for themselves. I’m brokenhearted, but I’m also angry. I’m angry that it seems that things can slip under the loops and we can hide behind a veil of rules and regulations and standards and a lot of mumbo jumbo and still make something like this occur,” Hawley said.
Those who cannot attend the session can comment by emailing EGLE-AQD-PTIPublicComments@michigan.gov, leavening a voicemail at 517-284-0900, or by mailing EGLE, Air Quality Division, Permit Section, P.O. Box 30260, Lansing, Michigan 48909.