Three new Michigan bills threaten our health and environmental well-being

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Three bills that are anti-DEQ (department of environmental quality), Senate Bills 652, 653, and 654. would create an environmental rules committee and appeal board stacked with industry representatives that would be empowered with DEQ oversight including veto and appeal power on the same rules regulating their own industries.

We know that regulated industries don’t always have public health, natural resource protection, and environmental safety at the top of their priorities compared to financial gains. While relevant stakeholders should have a space in the decision-making process, it is dangerous to hand off all decision-making ability.

Having regulated industries set Michigan’s environmental rules is like trusting the fox to guard the henhouse–it is fundamentally reckless to ask regulated industries to set their own rules when it comes to protecting the health of Michigan families and our natural resources from environmental harm and pollution.

The industry representatives and industry interest groups in these positions benefit directly from lax enforcement of environmental laws, and yet these bills would hand over authority for protecting our state’s environment to these unelected individuals who are on the payroll of polluting industries.

As communities across Michigan that face the very real dangers of polluted air and water can attest, the stakes for bad environmental decision making are incredibly high.

With the Trump Administration dead set on greatly weakening the US Environmental Protection Agency, by further undermining the MDEQ this plan would leave Michigan doubly vulnerable. 5. Without federal, and now, state environmental cops on the beat–who is going to hold polluters accountable when they poison our families or devastate our natural areas? The answer: no one.

“Decades of hard-learned lessons taught Michiganders that we cannot trust polluting industries to put public health and the protection of our air and water quality ahead of their own financial interests. The last thing we should be doing is handing over authority for Michigan’s environmental protections to unelected, unaccountable individuals who have a financial stake in the very industries they would be charged with regulating.” – Lisa Wozniak of Michigan LCV, MIRS News 12/7/17

Tomorrow and Friday, OKT will post more information about each of these three bills.



19428904_677880482411250_6000222672909238272_nMake a public comment to MDEQ: Enbridge Line 5 should be permanently decommissioned

Every day, nearly 23 million gallons of oil flow through two aging pipelines in the heart of the Great Lakes, just west of the Mackinac Bridge. Built in 1953, the two 20-inch-in-diameter “Line 5” pipelines owned by Canadian company Enbridge, Inc., lie exposed in the water at the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac. On December 5, Enbridge was caused to temporarily shut down the Line 5 for safety reasons due to 3 foot waves in the Straits. Yet there are no safe conditions for oil in 20% of the world’s fresh surface waters. Wednesday night, residents from SE Michigan testified in Taylor Michigan, urging MDEQ to permanently shutdown Line 5 and permanently remove oil from the Lakes, at any risk. See testimony in Idle No More’s Facebook Page.

Please visit Oil and Water Don’t Mix to submit comments if you cannot attend. [

Next week’s hearings are:
Tuesday, December 12, 6-9pm

Alternatives Analysis Public Feedback Session
Little Bear Arena & Community Center • St Ignace

Wednesday, December 13, 6-9pm

Alternatives Analysis Public Feedback Session
West Bay Beach Holiday Inn Resort • Traverse City

Residents of Grand Rapids southeast side come together to advocate against lead poisoning

Note from OKT: Residents need to know that lead is also prevalent in the soil in GR’s SE neighborhoods, as these areas were once orchards treated with lead-containing pesticides. Soil testing and covering lead-contaminated soil with wood chips to keep lead out of children’s bodies is another important step in lowering lead poisoning.

inlead1Reposted from Rapid Growth Media


When Lyree Adams’ daughter, LaRissa Adams, was two years old she tested positive for lead poisoning. Then, Adams resided in the 49504 zip code, which continues to be one of the Grand Rapids areas with high numbers of lead poisoning among children. After finding out the outcomes lead poisoning could have on her daughter, Adams did everything in her power to advocate for her family with her landlord, and managed to have the windows in her home replaced at no additional cost to her.
“The dust from the paint on the windows was responsible for the LaRissa’s high levels of lead in her body,” shares Adams.

Present day data demonstrates that lead poisoning in children living in the 49507 zip code has increased by 40 percent during just the past two years. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, no safe level of lead in the blood for children has been identified. When children test at a level of 5 micrograms per deciliters to identify children with levels higher than most children. Grand Rapids neighborhoods are among the most affected by lead poisoning in the state of Michigan.

“More children were lead poisoned in 49507 than all seven Flint zip codes combined—before, during, and after the Flint water crisis,” shares Paul Haan, executive director of Healthy Homes Coalition.

Even though it has been close to a decade since LaRissa was diagnosed, Adams has not stepped away from advocating for a Grand Rapids free of lead poisoning, especially black children, according to data are being affected by lead poisoning at significantly higher levels than white children in the city of Grand Rapids.

The zipcodes most affected are the 49503, 49504, and 49507. Areas where people of color make up the majority of the residents living in these.

According to Haan, the higher incidence in these zipcodes is also related to the age of the houses—most being around one hundred years old.

“There is more distressed housing in these zip codes, and perhaps by renovation being done by untrained, uncertified labor. Under federal regulations, contractors, landlords, and their maintenance staff that disturb lead-based paint must be trained, certified, and use lead-safe work practices. It’s clear that this is not always the case when renovations are being done in these neighborhoods,” shares Haan.

Lead can be found in the interior and exterior paint of homes built before 1978, which was the same year lead based paint was banned—and most houses in the city of Grand Rapids were built before that year.

“Where we live shouldn’t matter. If there is something wrong, then something should be done about it,” shares Adams.
Tabitha Williams, a resident on the southeast side of Grand Rapids, got involved because her children were being affected, and her backyard tested positive for lead. For Williams, getting involved meant getting connected with Healthy Homes Coalition.
Williams believes the answer to ending lead poisoning in the city of Grand Rapids must involve educating the residents most affected by the problem.

“The first thing we need to do is educate us, then we go advocate and speak on behalf of our children,” says Williams.

According to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, one gram of lead dust is enough to make 25,000 square feet of flooring hazardous for young children. In other words, the equivalent of a packet of Sweet’N Low is just the right amount to contaminate the floors of a dozen homes in the city of Grand Rapids, according to Haan.

The resident explains feeling let down by her community and those in power. As a black woman she explains, “I am already affected financially when accessing economic opportunities, and then to count us out of a healthy environment is a huge letdown.”

Adams and Williams have chosen not to remain silent in the face of adversity and are rallying their friends, families, and neighbors to tackle the problem of lead. The pair has joined the group known as Parent for Healthy Homes and hosted an event the evening of Monday, October 30th at Dickinson Cultural Center, a Grand Rapids Public School located in the 49507 zip code.

“There have been a lot of things done in our community to prevent lead exposure over the years. While these things initially worked well, they are no longer resulting in fewer children being poisoned as they used to. I think parents know how we can do better by our kids, and how we can help them to stop hurting,” says Haan.
Lisa Matthews, resident of the 49507 area and grandmother to Trayvon, who is only three years old but has already tested at at a level 9 deciliters of level in his blood. Matthews found out Trayvon tested positive thanks to the Michigan Medicaid policy requiring children be tested at one and two years of age, and those who have not been tested must be tested at least once between the ages of three and six years. Children not tested must be tested at least once between the ages of three and six years.
Matthews explains that since finding out, she has done everything she can to help Trayvon’s blood levels go down and has managed to his down to a level five out of eleven. As Trayvon’s primary caregiver, Matthews wants to ensure she advocates at every level she is able to so that no other children are faced with the same health concerns Trayvon has.
Adams suggested “reciprocity agreements” with landlords: “If a renter has to give a deposit to a landlord, shouldn’t the landlord have to give some kind of guarantee that the property is lead-free?” she posed to the group.
According to Kent county law, houses aren’t required to be tested for lead. A property owner can sell, rent, or remodel a home without checking it for lead or lead hazards. The last time the city of Grand Rapids updated its housing codes regarding lead was in 2005, which requires landlords to remove all loose paint and paint chips.
Haan explains that a correlation exists between the current housing crisis and the increase in lead poisoning.

“With West Michigan’s robust real estate market, it’s harder now to find healthy homes to live in. The seller’s market is great for sellers but not necessarily good for buyers and renters,” shares Haan.

Setting funding aside to ensure testing is done in homes was among the possible solutions suggested by the residents present at the event.

Last fall, Grand Rapids was awarded $2.9 million in HUD funding to fix homes with lead-based paint hazards. Typical fixes include new windows and exterior painting or siding. The HUD funding is available to eligible homeowners, landlords, and tenants and the city of Grand Rapids administers the funding locally.

To eliminate lead poisoning from Grand Rapids, Haan suggests, “Older housing should be inspected so that owners and tenants can know if there are hazards present. And then it must be maintained to control those hazards.”

“Lead poisoning is preventable,” shares Adams with the table she is facilitating who also included as participants, Third Ward Commissioner, Senita Lenear, and Kent County Commissioner representing district seventeen, Robert Womack. The third ward of Grand Rapids, and district seventeen of Kent County both fall within the 49507 zip code.

Anyone who owns or rents a home in the city of Grand Rapids built before 1978 is encouraged to learn about funding eligibility. For more information, please call the Healthy Homes Coalition of West Michigan at 616-241-3300 or visit Or, contact the city of Grand Rapids Community Development Department at 616-456-3030.


Detroit residents, environmental, health organizations unite to defeat tarsands waste

Note: OKT continues to support EJ activists in Detroit because what impacts eastern Michigan impacts West Michigan — and their efforts shine as great examples of what we can do here.

unnamed (2)EJ win at Detroit City Council

A report from Michelle Martinez

It’s not often that we have a victory in EJ. But thanks to all the amazing work from community members, and a historic coming together of all the communities of SW Detroit, we won an epic 4-year battle. We won historic protections for human and environmental protection against PET COKE and other toxic bulk materials! From Alberta Canada to Detroit Michigan we are saying no to more toxic industry dumping their waste on the land, in the water and poisoning our communities right to breathe.

So many people from 48217 to 48216, and all in between, and across the pond stood up for their rights to breathe. Just some of the community members were Dr. Leonard, Theresa Landrum, Vincent Martin, Gloria Rivera, Simone Sagovac, Deb Sumner, Tom Dombrowski, Eric Campbell, Michael Koehler, Rashida Tlaib, Rhonda Anderson, Naim Edwards, Marcia Lee, Maggie and baby Fiona of SDEV, Sierra Club, DWEJ, EMEAC, MEC, Detroit Audubon Society, Windsor on Watch and Council of Canadians, and so many more who were pushing behind the scenes and from home writing, watching council and getting the word out on/in (social) media.

unnamed (3)Nick Leonard from Great Lakes Environmental Law Center did SO much work to make sure Council members had all the science and technical information! A BIG shout out to him for a job well done. Thanks too for Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition facilitating all the work, in partnership with WSU Transnational Environmental Law Clinic.

What did we win with the PET COKE fight?! The passage of a bulk storage ordinance:

  • Any facility in the City of Detroit that stores or handles pet coke, met coke, nut coke, coke breeze or coal must only store or handle it in a completely enclosed structure with an impervious floor, four walls, and a roof.
  • Any facility that stores or handles other types of general aggregates, such as limestone and steel slag, must submit a fugitive dust plan to the City of Detroit for review. The dust plan must be adequate to protect the public health and environment and to prevent the emission of fugitive dust that causes an unreasonable interference with the comfortable enjoyment of property. The dust plan must also specify what measures facilities will take to control dust emission during high wind conditions.
  • unnamed (2)Facilities that are currently regulated by the state must describe the control measures, devices, and technologies to be used to minimize and control fugitive dust at the facility, must describe how all control measures, devices, and technologies will be maintained and calibrated to ensure their continued effectiveness, and must describe the training provided to staff regarding the proper application and operation of the control measures, devices, and technologies.
  • Facilities that are unregulated by the state must install specified dust control measures for all open storage piles, conveyors and transfer points, truck, railcar, and ship loading and unloading, roadways both within the facility and within 1/4 mile of the facility, and outgoing trucks. Unregulated facilities must also install continuous particulate matter monitors capable of detecting spikes in particulate matter emissions. If there is a spike in particulate matter emissions, the facility must report it to the City and must take immediate action to limit emissions.
  • Any outdoor storage pile must be screened from the view of adjacent roadways and properties.
  • In connection with the ordinance, BSEED also agreed to partner with the Health Department, local universities, and state and federal regulatory agencies to study ambient air quality in residential communities that are nearby bulk material facilities. Additionally, BSEED will recommend that expenditures for an Air Quality Specialist staff member and acquisition of air quality monitoring technology take place in the 2018-2019 fiscal budget.


Want to read more? Check out Katrease Stafford’s piece in the Detroit Free Press. Or listen to Nick Leonard and me on Stephen Henderson’s Detroit Today.

“Big Hunger,” discussion with author Andrew Fisher

7 p.m. Tuesday, October 24 514jG80iVzL._SL160_
Cathedral Square/Diocese of Grand Rapids

Wealthy & Division SE
Parking available in the ramp adjacent to the Diocese building, entrance on Wealthy Street.

More information and a podcast here.

Food banks and food pantries have proliferated in response to an economic emergency. The loss of manufacturing jobs combined with the recession of the early 1980s and Reagan administration cutbacks in federal programs led to an explosion in the growth of food charity. This was meant to be a stopgap measure, but the jobs never came back, and the “emergency food system” became an industry. In Big Hunger, Andrew Fisher takes a critical look at the business of hunger and offers a new vision for the anti-hunger movement.

From one perspective, anti-hunger leaders have been extraordinarily effective. Food charity is embedded in American civil society, and federal food programs have remained intact while other anti-poverty programs have been eliminated or slashed. But anti-hunger advocates are missing an essential element of the problem: economic inequality driven by low wages. Reliant on corporate donations of food and money, anti-hunger organizations have failed to hold business accountable for offshoring jobs, cutting benefits, exploiting workers and rural communities, and resisting wage increases. They have become part of a “hunger industrial complex” that seems as self-perpetuating as the more famous military-industrial complex.

Fisher lays out a vision that encompasses a broader definition of hunger characterized by a focus on public health, economic justice, and economic democracy. He points to the work of numerous grassroots organizations that are leading the way in these fields as models for the rest of the anti-hunger sector. It is only through approaches like these that we can hope to end hunger, not just manage it.

Make your voice known on the VoiceKent survey at the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market Saturday

VoiceKent-Color-768x210VoiceKent (previously known as VoiceGR) is a community survey offered in partnership with the Kent County Health Department in 2017. The survey is designed uniquely to connect demographics with the opinions, attitudes, and perceptions of Kent County residents on topics such as ability to meet basic needsaccess to healthcareneighborhood safetyemploymenteducation, and racism and discrimination. The data gathered from the survey is meant to help create a baseline to stimulate conversation on pertinent issues to our region.

The primary goal of VoiceKent is to provide objective data to residents, nonprofits, governments, businesses, and other decision makers regarding the perceptions and needs of the community.

Saturday Aug. 2 is the last time VoiceKent will be at the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market.

If you can’t make it to the market Saturday, click here to take the 2017 VoiceKent survey!

Tomar la encuesta en Español.

Environmental Justice After Charlottesville, VA


Make a comment
Governor Syder’s Environmental Justice Working Group is accepting comments and questions.  Emails can be sent to 

Reposted from the Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition

Michigan, Open Your Eyes to Racism

The gruesome violence that erupted in Virginia last week was a terrible reminder of the stark reality of racism in the United States. It’s a hatred imbalance of power wrought from the treacherous past. The explosive clashes, tragically resulted in the death of a young woman Heather Heyer. In her obituary, published by the New York Times, they describes Heather as a young passionate woman who died standing up for what she believed in: love and equality.

Equality. This is a notion that the Alt Right explicitly denounces. It’s a notion rejected by Vanguard, the group James Alex Fields Jr.—the man charged for striking 19 and killing Heather Heyer with a Charger– reportedly marched with in the Charlottesville rallies. Although the group denounced his actions, and deny his membership, Vanguard’s ruthless intentions were laid bare for the nation to see– a vision of the United States fortified by hatred. Their manifesto details “that equality does not exist in nature, and a government based in the natural law must not cater to the false notions of equality.” It rails multiculturalism, “international Jews”, and sees men as the sole provider for women.

In Environmental Justice work, we fight every day for equality. It is not just a concept, rather it is a moral imperative, that has far ranging impacts even down to the molecules of the air that we breathe. Equality decides who has the right to live, and for how long. Whether we are talking about losing your home in the foreclosure crisis[i], the per pupil amount distributed to students[ii], health disparities[iii], the amount ofchemical pollution we breathe[iv] [to name a few], all are injustices, and, none of them are distributed equally in our society. Rather, each of these issues are racialized. That is, if you are a person of color, you are statistically more likely in every category to be on the losing end. And that is so true for Michigan.

In the case of Flint, the Michigan Department of Civil Rights found that the underlying issues of racism contributed to the water contamination crisis in Flint. MDCR, publicly stated, “a complex mix of historical, structural and systemic racism combined with implicit bias led to decisions, actions, and consequences in Flint would not have been allowed to happen in primarily white communities such as Birmingham, Ann Arbor, or East Grand Rapids.”

In the wake of the Flint Water Crisis the Governor of Michigan formed the Environmental Justice Working Group to explore possible solutions to help forestall or foresee other catastrophes. Residents from SW Detroit zip code 48217 – known as Michigan’s most polluted zip code—organized and hosted a listening session for working group members to hear local concerns. Local residents asked for so many things, from an EJ Office, to more pollution mitigation funding. But none more poignant that the local nurse, pleading nearly in tears on behalf of the asthmatic teenagers who visit her River Rouge clinic, “they want to breathe, they want to breathe”.  Detroit has three times the asthma rate than the rest of the state.

So, is our society equal? No. We have proven that over and over in every sector from here to the moon. The conversation that is present now is whether or not you believe it. Are you of the ilk of Vanguard, James Fields and the Alt Right which seeks to deny it? Or do you deeply and profoundly agree in equality, what Heather Heyer was marching for? And if so, what are you going to do about it?

The full report on the Detroit Opportunity Index, and other major cities, can be seen on the Kirwin Institute website of Ohio State University

Michelle Martinez is the Coordinator for theMichigan Environmental Justice Coalition, and the Executive Director of Third Horizon Consulting, a Detroit-based social justice consulting firm.

State of MichiganEnvironmental Justice Working Group Northern Michigan Listening Session Thursday, August 24th, 2017, 6:00 PM Reception, 6:30 – 8:30 PM Listening Session, Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, 100 Grand Traverse Village Blvd, Acme, MI 49610, State of Michigan Working Group Website