This was cross-posted from the Detroit Free Press and written by Chris Kolb, president of the Michigan Environmental Council:
Michigan, in the 1970s and 1980s, was a leader in environmental and public health policies. This enabled the healthier air and water we enjoy today. Federal Clean Air and Clean Water acts; tougher rules on polluters, the Michigan Bottle Bill and voter-approved environmental bond issues were all part of that success.
But the task of protecting our children from environmental toxins, our urban residents from industrial pollution, and keeping our Great Lakes waters fishable and swimmable is a formidable challenge.
Michiganders still suffer preventable illnesses from pollution emitted by coal-fired power plants, industrial smokestacks and the world’s largest municipal incinerator in Detroit among other sources.
Our Great Lakes and inland waters also continue to see damage. Dangerous mercury emitted by power plants contributes to fish consumption advisories. Algae blooms foul beaches. Invasive species propel our Great Lakes into biological chaos with unpredictable and often harmful results.
The harm caused by these pollutants falls disproportionately on those in urban, low-income and minority neighborhoods. Lead lowers childhood IQ levels and contributes to behavioral problems. Components of soot impair lung function. And mercury in fish make it unsafe for women and children to eat more than one meal per month of many Michigan fish from lakes, streams and ponds in their own back yards.
Coal-burning power plants have made improvements in pollution control required by law. Yet they are still the top polluters in our state and nation — spewing toxics that contribute to illness, disease, injustice and premature deaths of our friends, neighbors and loved ones. Six in Michigan were named top “environmental justice offenders” in the nation, according to a report released last week by the Michigan NAACP.
That tracks with a 2011 report from the Michigan Environmental Council. It found that pollution from just the state’s nine oldest coal-fired plants cause $1.5 billion in health-related costs and damages in Michigan each year including 180 premature deaths, 233 hospital admissions or emergency room visits, 68,000 asthma exacerbations and 72,000 instances in which children were restricted from school or some other activity.
There are better alternatives in Michigan than the status quo that still treats our Great Lakes as an experiment, allows children to live in lead-poisoned homes, and relies on 60% of its electricity from hazardous, imported coal that poisons our air.
Photo: James M Phelps, Jr / Shutterstock.com