Skip to content

Posts from the ‘environmental health’ Category

Flint water crisis: Policy changes needed to restore public trust

In what has become a national news story and a full-fledged public health emergency, state officials now acknowledge that unsafe drinking water has exposed children, pregnant women and other Flint residents to dangerous levels of lead.

If you haven’t been following the story, you can find useful information here, here and here.

Gov. Rick Snyder today put forth a plan to switch the city’s drinking water source from the Flint River back to Detroit. The switch is expected to take about two weeks. Coupled with measures announced last week—including funding for water filters and additional lead testing—today’s announcement is an important step forward.

Still, there is a lot more state leaders could do to resolve the Flint crisis and prevent similar scenarios in other Michigan communities. Below we identify some additional measures the state should take as soon as possible.

If you’ve been following this situation closely, feel free to skip ahead to our take on the situation. If you’re new to this issue, here’s some background information to bring you up to speed.

Why lead in drinking water is such a big deal

Lead exposure causes irreversible brain damage, which results in learning disabilities and violent behavior in children and adults. The effects are both heartbreaking and costly—childhood lead poisoning costs Michigan $330 million a year in decreased lifetime earnings and increased costs for health care, crime and special education.

The more we learn about lead, the more worrisome it becomes. For instance, the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013 updated its risk threshold for lead poisoning and said there is no safe level of lead exposure. And new research from Wayne State University shows that a mother’s exposure to lead can damage not only her children’s fetal cells, but also her grandchildren’s.

As the Detroit Free Press noted in a recent editorial, Flint’s formula-fed infants are at extremely high risk because water makes up such a big portion of their diet. So are the unborn children of pregnant women who have been drinking water they were assured is safe. Switching back to a safer drinking water source will greatly reduce the risk, but as the Free Press editors wrote, “For children who have already been exposed, there are no remedies.” Read more

At pivotal moment for climate, two Michigan marches seek action, justice

Two landmark marches for climate justice are coming up in Michigan.

First up is the West Michigan People’s Climate March in Grand Rapids, organized by the West Michigan Environmental Action Council—an MEC member group—and many partners. It begins at 12:30 p.m. this Saturday, Sept. 19, at the Sixth Street Bridge Park. To learn more, register or make a donation, click here.

Then, on October 3, people from across the state will travel to the Detroit March for Justice. That two-mile march from Roosevelt Park to Hart Plaza will begin at noon and wrap up around 4 p.m. RSVP for the Detroit march and find out more here.

The Detroit march is being organized by the Sierra Club and dozens of partners, including MEC and many of our member groups. The new Michigan Climate Action Network is mobilizing people from around the state, including organizing a bus from Traverse City.

We will march for environmental justice because those least responsible for pollution often suffer the worst consequences, such as in southwest Detroit, home to Michigan’s most polluted ZIP code, where many residents suffer from asthma and cancer. Families often cannot afford to move to escape pollution from the Marathon oil refinery, toxic coal plants and other industrial facilities built near their homes.

We will march for climate justice because poverty makes it harder for people to adapt to heat waves and recover from extreme weather events. This is true in Detroit, where thousands are still recovering from last year’s floods, and around the world, where the poorest countries are suffering the worst impacts of a changing climate. Read more

New fund supports expansion of healthy food across Michigan

A new loan and grant fund aims to improve public health and drive economic growth in Michigan by expanding access to healthy food in underserved communities.

The Michigan Good Food Fund, a public-private partnership launched in June, will provide funding to food producers, distributors, processors and retailers, who are often overlooked by traditional banks. The fund’s supporters say the loans and grants are an important step toward decreasing obesity rates among the 1.8 million Michiganders—including 300,000 children—who live in communities with limited access to healthy food.

The fund’s core contributors are Fair Food Network, Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems, W.K Kellogg Foundation and Capital Impact Partners. By 2020, the partners plan to raise $30 million for the fund and ensure that 80 percent of residents have healthy food options, with 20 percent of the food consumed in Michigan sourced from within the state.

The fund is a positive step that is well-aligned with efforts by the Michigan Environmental Council and the Healthy Kids Healthy Michigan coalition to reduce childhood obesity, said Tina Reynolds, MEC health policy director.

“We will work alongside partners from the American Heart Association who are trying to put together state dollars to help seed the fund,” Reynolds said. “We will be involved with legislative meetings, education and outreach, and engaging key members of the Legislature to support these dollars.” Read more

Toxic rule fouls DEQ’s clean air celebration

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality last week kicked off a “Year of Clean Air” to celebrate 50 years of protecting Michigan residents from air pollution.

Just days before launching the celebration, however, the department issued a draft rule that would substantially weaken the air quality program and put at risk the health of Michigan residents—particularly low-income families and communities of color.

Michigan has come a long way in preventing air pollution. Since the state’s Air Pollution Control Act went into effect in 1965, we have seen a significant decline in chemicals being emitted. Before this act went into effect, Grand Rapids designated days when burning cars was not permitted—not because burning cars creates ghastly pollution and is a crazy thing to do, but because people wanted to dry their clothes outdoors without having them ruined by the toxic smoke.

In addition to stopping the obvious “black smoke” sources of pollution, the DEQ has overseen a regulatory program that has dropped emissions of dangerous chemicals to much lower levels. Mercury emissions, for instance, have dropped from 30,000 to 7,000 pounds a year. Michigan has over 40 monitoring stations that actively track how much pollution is in the air, from things like ozone and sulfur dioxide to different sizes of particulate matter.

Michigan also has one of the most robust air toxics permitting programs in the country. We’re among the handful of states that regulate air emissions of all toxic chemicals. Before issuing a permit to an industrial facility, the state uses computer modeling to estimate the health impact based on the chemicals to be emitted, their quantity and where they will fall. To be on the safe side in protecting public health, the department assumes that chemicals with unknown potential human health impacts are highly toxic.

Under the draft rule, however, DEQ would remove approximately 500 chemicals from the list of 1,200 chemicals regulated by the state. A chemical’s impact on human health is a function of both its toxicity and its quantity, but the proposed rule removes quantity from the formula, allowing unregulated emissions of the 250 least-toxic, non-carcinogenic toxic chemicals. Though these chemicals are less toxic in small quantities, they can still pose a danger when emitted beyond a certain threshold.  It also deregulates 250 chemicals for which no health data are available. The proposed rule would eliminate the modeling requirement for those 500 chemicals. Read more

Success! New budget continues funding to prevent lead poisoning

The $54.5 billion state budget approved yesterday by the Legislature includes $1.75 million for programs to prevent lead poisoning, marking three straight years of budget success by MEC and our partners in the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes (MIALSH).

The continued funding for the Department of Community Health will help to remove lead hazards from homes across the state, protecting Michigan children from the devastating effects of lead poisoning.

“I’m really proud of our team and very grateful to the Legislature for making this wise investment in our state’s future,” said Tina Reynolds, MEC health policy director. “Our ultimate aim is to end lead poisoning in Michigan. It’s an ambitious goal and will take a lot of time and resources to achieve, but our efforts in that direction are picking up steam, thanks to the Legislature’s continued support.”

MEC is part of the leadership team for MIALSH, which includes public health agencies, lead-affected families, lead contractors and inspectors, environmental health organizations and the landlord community, among others.

MIALSH formed in 2010 and has been successful in educating legislators about lead hazards and advocating for state investment in lead abatement. Thanks to those efforts, the fiscal year 2014 state budget for the first time included $1.25 million set aside for lead cleanups in homes. MIALSH successfully increased that funding to $1.75 million for the 2015 budget year, and maintained that funding level for 2016, despite budget pressure created by business tax credits, growing health care costs and much-needed road repairs.

The 2014 funding made possible inspection and lead removal in 122 homes, creating a safe environment for hundreds of kids and providing job opportunities for more than 15 lead abatement contractors.

Gov. Rick Snyder is expected to sign the new budget later this month.


Photo courtesy Michele Truex via Flickr.

MEC joins clean air crusaders at Mama Summit

MEC rallied at the Capitol this week with dozens of concerned parents to educate legislators about the negative health impacts coal plants have on children.

It was the second annual “Mama Summit” coordinated by Moms Clean Air Force, a community of hundreds of thousands of parents advocating for children’s health. Participants gathered to share key facts and personal stories to build support among legislators for clean energy as a means to fight air pollution.

MEC Health Policy Director Tina Reynolds and Energy Program Director Sarah Mullkoff helped to plan the summit and took part in a press conference and other activities. Mullkoff also led the group discussion in five meetings—four with legislative staff members and one with a senator.

“It’s wonderful to see so many parents and advocates for children here at the Capitol to voice their support for clean energy and a healthy environment,” Mullkoff said. “One of the best things state leaders can do for the health of Michigan’s youngest residents is to transition away from dirty coal plants by increasing energy efficiency and investing in more renewable power.” Read more

Lead Education Day: MEC and partners take to the Capitol to protect Michigan kids

The Michigan Environmental Council joined more than 30 advocates at the State Capitol yesterday to educate lawmakers about the dangers of lead poisoning and the urgent need to maintain the state’s current funding for removing lead hazards from homes.

It was the fourth Lead Education Day organized by the Michigan Alliance for Lead Safe Homes. MEC is part of the leadership team for MIALSH, which includes public health agencies, lead-affected families, lead contractors and inspectors, environmental health organizations and the landlord community, among others.

Since its formation in 2010, the MIALSH coalition has been successful in educating legislators about lead hazards and advocating for state investment in lead abatement. Thanks to those efforts, the fiscal year 2014 state budget for the first time included $1.25 million set aside for lead cleanups in homes. MIALSH successfully increased that funding to $1.75 million for the 2015 budget year.

Meeting with Rep. Phelps.

MIALSH members pose after a good meeting with Rep. Phil Phelps (D-Flushing).

“At our first education day, many of the lawmakers we met with were unaware that, even though lead was phased out of paint and gasoline, Michigan’s housing stock still contains a lot of residual lead, and lead poisoning is still a serious problem,” said Tina Reynolds, MEC health policy director and a MIALSH leader. “Term limits mean there’s a lot of turnover in the Legislature and there’s always more education to do, but in general it feels like our messages are sinking in. Once they understand the problem, legislators find lead poisoning unacceptable, and they’re supportive of our coalition’s efforts.”

Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal for the 2016 fiscal year maintains the $1.75 million for lead programs, but protecting that funding from cuts as the budget moves through legislative committees will require that lawmakers understand the impact of lead poisoning in their districts. Read more

Lame duck update: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad

With Michigan’s lame duck session in full swing, we thought we’d update Michigan Distilled readers on what has been a very…interesting—yes, we’ll go with interesting—week at the Capitol.

The title of a particular Spaghetti Western film provides a useful way to sort out recent goings-on in Lansing. But one bill moving through the Legislature is so vile, odious and abhorrent that, with apologies to Sergio Leone, we have to start there.

And so, here’s a roundup of this week’s environmental legislation: The Ugly, the Good and the Bad.


There’s bad legislation, and then there’s House Bill 5205, which that chamber approved Thursday. Introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt, a Republican from Lawton, this irresponsible bill would amend Michigan’s clean energy law, changing the definition of “renewable” to include old tires, railroad ties and other hazardous waste.

Calling dirty, nonrenewable materials clean and renewable would be laughable, but the bill has advanced too far to be funny, and its potential effects on the health of Michigan residents are no joke. Railroad ties, for example, contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer. Read more

MEC, ZWD urge lawmakers to send waste-to-energy bill to the trash heap

Update 2: The Senate did not take up HB 5205 before the end of the legislative session, so the bill is dead (for now). Thanks to everyone who spoke out against this bad legislation and in support of real renewable energy!

Update: The House has approved HB 5205. Please join MEC in urging your senator to stop this irresponsible bill from moving any further.

The Michigan Environmental Council and Zero Waste Detroit are urging lawmakers to vote down legislation approved by a House committee that would expand the state’s definition of renewable energy to include the burning of hazardous waste, warning that it would harm the health of Michigan residents and hobble the state’s growing clean-energy industry.

House Bill 5205, introduced by Rep. Aric Nesbitt (R-Lawton) and approved this week by the House Energy and Technology Committee he chairs, would amend the 2008 Michigan law that requires utilities to generate 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015. It would put scrap tires, plastics and hazardous materials in the same category as legitimate clean-energy technologies like wind and solar power.

The bill draws its list of fuels that should be considered renewable from a federal administrative rule that has nothing to do with renewable energy. In fact, the rule concerns how the Clean Air Act should be applied to facilities that burn waste materials, including hazardous waste with potentially toxic air emissions.

An amendment to the bill removed petroleum coke—an oil-refining byproduct—from the list of fuels that would be considered renewable. And some of the included materials, such as byproducts from pulp and paper mills, already were considered renewable fuels under the 2008 law. But the bill would add dirty fuels that create serious public health risks when burned. For example, it could include railroad ties, which contain dioxins and other chemicals known or suspected of causing cancer, and demolition waste including wood coated in lead-based paint. Read more

Visiting a state park this weekend? We need your help!

Many Michigan families and visitors from other states will enjoy fireworks and festivities this holiday weekend at one of Michigan’s 102 state parks.

Those campers will eat a lot of junk food. And that’s fine – part of the fun of camping is indulging in plenty of chips, pop, hot dogs and s’mores.

But many people also visit the state parks to enjoy healthy physical activity and outdoor adventures like biking, swimming and kayaking. And those folks often want to refuel with more nutritious food choices.

That’s why MEC and our partners in the Healthy Kids, Healthy Michigan coalition recently commissioned a study of the food offerings from vendors at state parks. Michigan State University researchers visited a sampling of parks to see what items were available from camp stores, concession stands and vending machines. They also surveyed park visitors to find out what they think about the available food options. Read more