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Great Lakes Article:

Michigan on list of worst polluters

Industries still violating water act, report shows

August 8, 2002

BY DAN SHINE
Detroit Free Press

Michigan's lakes, rivers and streams continue to be polluted by industrial and municipal facilities long after the Clean Water Act was passed to stop such discharges, according to a national environmental report obtained by the Free Press.

TheMichigan public-interest group PIRGIM will release a report today showing that water pollution from Michigan plants and factories is among the worst in the nation. The group used data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for its report.

The state had 12 facilities -- second only to Texas -- labeled in "significant noncompliance" with the Clean Water Act for five consecutive quarters from January 2000 through March 2001. One of the 12 violators was the Detroit Wastewater Treatment Plant, which was written up three times for violating its monthly waste limits and twice for not meeting a scheduled reporting date.

George Ellenwood, spokesman for the Detroit Water & Sewerage Department, said an equipment failure caused one discharge violation but didn't know what caused the other two. Ellenwood also said that whenever the facility knew it would not be able to meet a scheduled reporting date, it requested an extension ahead of time.

Michigan also ranked ninth nationally for the number of facilities -- 66 -- that violated its federal permits at least once during the 15-month period studied by PIRGIM. Those violators included the Downriver Wastewater Treatment Plant in Wyandotte and the Oakland County Wastewater Treatment Plant in Novi.

The violations ranged from discharging more waste than permits allowed to failing to report discharges.

"This is our water -- the water we drink, the water that we swim, fish and boat in," said Megan Owens, PIRGIM's field director. "The people of Michigan should be disheartened to know that so many facilities are consistently polluting our waters."

In Michigan, 183 facilities -- wastewater treatment plants, factories and manufacturing plants -- are required to have permits through the Clean Water Act. The act, drafted in 1972, aimed to have all U.S. waterways clean enough for swimming and fishing by 1983 and to end all pollution discharges two years later.

PIRGIM said the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality must be more vigilant with its enforcement and give out more than a "slap on the wrist."

Patricia Spitzley, a MDEQ spokeswoman, said the agency has collected $4 million in surface water quality fines this past fiscal year. "We are out doing our job," she said. "We are out there enforcing the law."

Owens said a 30-percent budget cut next year will result in less enforcement.

But MDEQ officials pledged to keep inspectors out in the field, and Spitzley said the budget cut won't "negatively impact our ability to enforce the law."

Owens said PIRGIM and other groups will press the gubernatorial candidates to spell out how they would improve the state's water quality.

"They all say they stand up for Michigan water," Owens said. "We'll ask the candidates to talk about their plans and have them promise that Michigan will strengthen its water-quality standards." To see the full report, go to www.uspirg.org.

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